Government effort to develop pollution-free crackers a non-starter
a decade ago, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s Firecracker Research and Development Centre was tasked with doing research to develop chemical formulae for environmentally-friendly firecrackers. The final formulae they came up with only dealt with noise pollution, not air pollutants.environment Updated: Oct 18, 2017 14:02 IST
This October the Supreme Court banned the sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR till Nov 1. The backlash was swift and fierce. A section of the population saw it as an attack on Hindu culture, including author Chetan Bhagat.
It got support from environment minister Harsh Vardhan, who has vigorously pushed the Green Diwali campaign, whose core message is: Say No to Firecrackers.
With trolls on Twitter accusing Harshvardhan of alienating the BJP’s core Hindu voter base, the minister changed tack on Sunday at a Clean Air event in Delhi and called on scientists to develop pollution-free firecrackers.
It seemed like a solution designed to keep everyone happy. The only problem is the idea was mooted by the Supreme Court more than a decade ago and the research that was supposed to be done by government institutions never took off.
The Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization (PESO)’s Firecracker Research and Development Centre (FRDC) was tasked with doing research to develop chemical formulae for environmentally-friendly firecrackers, but the formulae they came up with only dealt with noise pollution and not air pollutants.
A 2013 CAG audit report described FRDC as under-utilized and understaffed. The centre has no staff on roll, the handful who worked were mostly drafted from the parent organisation, PESO, and had no technical expertise for the work.
PESO, which is under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, is responsible for the enactment of the Explosive’s Act, Petroleum Act and the Inflammable Substances Act.
Former senior officials working at PESO confirmed that while the infrastructure was in place there was no work being done for developing pollution-free crackers.
The chairman of PESO did not respond to requests for a comment.
The FRDC is located in Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, which is the hub of fireworks manufacture in India, producing 90% of the fireworks in the country.
This year the apex court also took measures to ban toxic elements used in the manufacture of firecrackers: antimony, lithium, mercury, arsenic and lead, partly as a way to protect those who worked in the firework factories.
Firework manufacturers in Sivakasi are already reeling from the impact of demonetisation, followed by a 28% GST on firecrackers and now the Supreme Court ban in Delhi-NCR, one of their most lucrative markets. Manufacturers said they would be hard pressed to invest in developing environment-friendly crackers and the funding and research would have to come from the government.