A day after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the states to ban firecrackers in cities having poor AQI, the Punjab government on Tuesday banned crackers in Mandi Gobindgarh, the steel town of the state, and allowed only green crackers to be burst in other parts for two hours on Diwali.
The directions of NGT and state government came only after the firecracker dealers have already invested money in normal crackers which are known to pollute the air. Not many dealers in Punjab have purchased green crackers.
A government order on Tuesday quoted Chief Minister Amarinder Singh as having said he was banning crackers in Mandi Gobindgarh from midnight of November 9-10 till November 30-Devember 1.
In other parts, only green crackers will be allowed as per these orders, which are in compliance with the directives of the NGT, as well as various judicial orders passed amid reports of firecrackers likely to aggravate the Covid problem, the government statement said.
While on Diwali (November 14), green crackers can be burst from 8 pm to 10 pm, on Gurpurab (November 30), they will be allowed from 4 am to 5 am and from 9 pm to 10 pm. On Christmas Eve, people can burst these crackers from 11.55 pm to 12.30 am.
The CM directed the department of science, technology and environment to issue the necessary notification in this regard. Warning against any violation of these curbs, he asked DGP Dinkar Gupta to crack down heavily to ensure penal action as per the law.
A functionary of Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) said the green crackers do not contain banned chemicals such as lithium and arsenic, barium and lead.
They are called Safe Water Releaser (SWAS), Safe Thermite Cracker (STAR) and Safe Minimal Aluminium (SAFAL) crackers. These crackers have been developed by scientists at CSIR and NEERI. The green crackers have 30 per cent less particulate matter. They do not release dust but only water vapour and are less noisy.
While the government’s order came on Tuesday, just four days before Diwali, the firecracker dealers said they had not purchased green crackers this time because they did not find takers for these in the previous years. “We have no supplies of green crackers. Nobody bought those in the last two years. We wasted money. This time, we were already hit by Covid-19 lockdown. That is why we did not want to waste money,” said Tribhuvan Thapar, general secretary of Ludhiana Fireworks Wholesalers Association.
Ashok Thapar, another dealer, said that the green crackers were also called cold crackers but they are three times as expensive as the normal crackers. “For instance, if a packet of anar is available for Rs 100 to Rs 150, the green crackers are available for Rs 350 for five pieces. Why would anybody want these?” he asked.
He added that he did not know anything about the order on green crackers by the Punjab government. “If they have done it, then it is a bolt from the blue for the dealers. Where will our product go? The government has allotted our stalls, we have paid tax. If they had to do it, they should have issued these orders earlier.”
A dealer said the way the government had gone about passing these orders, it showed the seriousness of sticking to the orders, “So many people have already purchased the crackers because they did not want to rush to the markets just before the festival to keep safe from Covid-19. How will the government check the use of those crackers?” he asked.
Tribhuvan Thapar said their market alone had invested half the money compared to last year because the business was affected due to pandemic, “We have borrowed to invest in crackers thinking people would spend money for the festival as they are sick of the pandemic. Now we do not know what will happen,” he said.
Punjab was not willing to ban crackers in the state till Monday when the NGT asked the states to ban crackers in cities with poor air quality. The state government was of the opinion that its cities had moderate to satisfactory air quality. It had also argued that Punjab’s Covid-19 situation was not as bad as Delhi’s. However, Punjab witnessed 21 deaths due to Covid on Monday which was a cause for concern and the issue came up for discussion at the Covid-19 review meeting chaired by the CM on Tuesday.
The state is already hitting headlines for its farmers burning paddy stubble. The air quality in the state is visibly poor as a blanket of smog has engulfed the state.
On Tuesday, the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) released data of AQI in non-attainment cities for the month of October and stated that the maximum AQI was in Mandi Gobindgarh at 176, and minimum AQI was in Khanna at 137. The AQI was moderate in all the six cities where air quality was being monitored. While Jalandhar had an AQI of 147, Patiala’s AQI was 142, Ludhiana’s AQI was 162 and Amritsar’s was at 154 in October.
As per the Sameer App of Central Pollution Control Board, Ludhiana’s AQI on Tuesday was 247, Khanna’s was 254, Bathinda’s was 286, Jalandhar’s was 296, Ropar’s was 277, Amritsar’s was 269 and Patiala’s was 293. All these levels are considered poor quality of air.
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