A day after the Supreme Court banned the sale of firecrackers in Delhi and the National Capital Region, state Environment Minister Ramdas Kadam tweeted that he would consult Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on whether similar measures could be taken up in Maharashtra to ensure a pollution-free Diwali.
However, the minister later said there were no plans to ban firecrackers in the state. “Maharashtra’s condition is not as bad as that of Delhi. We have no plan to ban firecrackers in the state. We will make attempts to create awareness to celebrate an environment-friendly Diwali,” said Kadam.
City-based public health expert Dr Sundeep Salvi, who is also the director of the Chest Research Foundation (CRF), said the harmful effects of air pollution, caused by the burning of firecrackers, affected all parts of India. “Delhi has been bearing the brunt of it, but the air quality in Pune has ranged from moderate to poor category for the last five years, particularly so during Diwali festival,” Salvi said.
“There is no good-quality firecracker that causes less pollution. All of them are harmful, irrespective of which firecracker you burn. The worst of all is the snake tablet, which produces 60,000 micrograms per cubic meter of tiny particles (compared to the safety limit of 50). All the firecrackers that we tested produced levels way above the safe limits. Even the ‘best ones’… were 100-times above the safe limit,” said Salvi.
Recently, the CRF had conducted a study that showed that burning of fire crackers, during Diwali in a residential society of Pune, produced very high levels of gaseous air pollutants. Levels of sulphur dioxide in the ambient air was recorded to be 200 times above the safety limits suggested by the World Health Organisation. The worrying factors are the rising levels of particulate matter (PM) 2.5 and PM 10 in Pune and several areas of Mumbai.
“None of the firecrackers are safe… and all of them cause enormous levels of air pollution. Among them, the snake tablet, the laad and pulpul are the most harmful. The levels of PM 2.5 were measured only when each individual firecracker was burnt… but when many people burn firecrackers together, the cumulative levels of PM 2.5 could reach extremely high levels,” said Dr Salvi.
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has stepped up its campaign for a pollution-free Diwali among school students and is educating them about the hazards of firecrackers. The regulatory body has also authorised the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), along with IIT-Bombay, to conduct a year-long study on air pollution in 17 major cities.
MPCB member-secretary P Anbalagan told The Indian Express, “The aim of the study is to understand what the major sources of air pollution are, and to develop measures to mitigate them… the study will be conducted in Pune, Mumbai, Nashik, Nagpur, Amravati, Aurangabad, Chandrapur, Thane, Kolhapur, Solapur and other cities.”
Both NEERI and IIT will prepare an emissions inventory, on agents that cause pollution.
The System for Air Quality Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) and MPCB have been monitoring air quality levels at various locations during Diwali, and there has been a dip in air quality in the last three to four years
In 2015, the Air Quality Index (AQI) showed that PM 2.5 had increased upto 110 microgram/m3 and the level of PM 10 had reached 150, falling under the ‘poor category’, according to SAFAR. Under AQI, levels between 201-300 fall under the ‘poor’ category and between 301-400 is considered ‘very poor’, indicating a health risk for people sensitive to air pollution.
Last year, the air quality in Pune had plunged to 337, or ‘very poor’, in the days following Diwali. This was due to low wind speed, a dip in minimum temperature and additional emissions from firecrackers. On Diwali, Pune had witnessed a moderate category AQI of 192.
(With inputs from ENS, Mumbai)