The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), which checks firecrackers for compliance with noise standard and air quality in the run-up to Diwali, is awaiting fresh directives from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) before doing so this year, as the latter has already urged a ban on firecrackers between November 7 and 20.
Several states, including Karnataka and Delhi, have already issued a ban on firecrackers after the NGT notice.
“An order is expected on November 9 and till then, we have postponed the annual exercise of testing the firecrackers for compliance with noise standard and air quality,” Joint Director of MPCB, V M Mothgare, told The Indian Express.
Recently, state Health Minister Rajesh Tope also hinted at a possible ban on firecrackers during Diwali in a bid to prevent a second wave of Covid-19 infections.
In a cabinet meeting held on Thursday, Dr Subhash Salunkhe, technical head of the Covid-19 task force in Pune Division, along with other experts, said Maharashtra had to take a stand on banning firecrackers .
“Delhi, Rajasthan and some other states have already banned firecrackers this Diwali and Maharashtra should also take the same step,” said Dr Salunkhe. He added that while air quality levels are comparatively better in Maharashtra as compared to north India, still factors such as cold weather and air pollutants emitted by firecrackers can precipitate respiratory illnesses.
“Pollution due to firecrackers has the potential to aggravate the severity of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic,” he added.
According to MPCB, the NGT bench is expected to pass an order on November 9 about remedial action against pollution caused due to firecrackers.This is why the board has decided to defer the exercise of testing firecrackers for compliance with noise standards and air quality, said Dr Mothgare.
Doctors have repeatedly warned that Covid-19 patients face breathing issues due to the infection’s impact on the lungs. Pune had reported the highest number of Covid-19 patients in the country back in September, and pollution caused by firecrackers can play havoc with those recovering from the disease, they said.
“We need to take steps to ensure that this toxic smoke does not affect patients at home or in quarantine,” said a doctor, adding that residents of cooperative societies should take a conscious decision to boycott firecrackers.
Pulmonologist Dr Vivek Nangia said poor air quality causes inflammation in the lungs, making people more vulnerable to respiratory ailments. “We see a rise of 15-20 per cent in cases of respiratory and cardiac ailments, both in OPD and Emergency, during this period. Associated allergic problems like headache, eye burning, sore throat and others are specially observed in children.
“This is also the time when the number of cases of influenza and pneumonia are on the rise due to the change in weather conditions,” he said.
Experts at System for Air Quality and Forecasting Research (SAFAR) also pointed out that low temperatures and increased air pollution lead to particulate matters remaining suspended in the air for a longer period and can make people more vulnerable to respiratory ailments.
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