That fewer crackers were burnt this year was clear from the relatively quieter Diwali evening many in Delhi experienced on Thursday. Unfortunately, several online home delivery companies and touts seem to have put paid to the Supreme Court’s order banning the sale of fireworks in Delhi and NCR, by finding a loophole in the sale of crackers – evidently, the Supreme Court didn’t take the possibility of online sales into account. Clearly, a mere ban will not stop Delhi’s addiction to crackers, even if they are mostly Made in China, or from celebrating the way they want to.
Over several years in the national capital region, school students have shunned fireworks after dedicated efforts by teachers and NGOs. They were not deterred by a ban but by dialogue. While such a dialogue, which takes dedicated effort, has been subject to several faulty slips and starts, traders say the ban did slow down business to a very large extent. But several complained that while they were willing to bear the sacrifice associated with the ban – even if it was so last-minute – because of the heavy health costs Delhi is being forced to pay, several pointed out that online sales had forced them to suffer a double jeopardy. Not only were their financial losses in vain, but Delhi’s air resembles a gas chamber this morning.
The statistics at several monitoring stations in the capital show a distressing picture. Levels of particulate matter (PM) are over 15 times permissible limits. While the permissible limits for PM 10 is 100 and PM 2.5 is 60 microgram per cubic metre, at India Gate, the PM 2.5 value at 10 am today was off the charts, a very high level of 985 micrograms per cubic metre. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee real-time readings has already put the air in the “severely polluted category”. At Mandir Marg, in the heart of the city, the PM levels were 355 micrograms per cubic metre. At Punjabi Bagh in western Delhi, the PM 10 levels were 1514 micrograms per cubic metre, more than 15 times the permissible limits.
Still, the situation was better than 2016, which from all accounts has been the most polluted year in five years in the week after Diwali. Of course, fireworks aren’t the only reason for this substantial pollution. Wind patterns in Delhi, vehicular pollution, pollution from industry, etc pollute Delhi’s air year the round. In winter, the effect is worse as higher humidity levels and low temperatures make sure that pollution does not disperse and stays close to the earth’s surface. Emissions from firecrackers add to the toxic mix and make the week after Diwali unbearable.
That the SC ban was flouted all across the city is no secret, but besides controlling pollution, another reason for the ban was to study the impact of fireworks on pollution levels. Scientists at the Delhi Pollution Control Committee and Central Pollution Control Board are busy, as we speak, analysing emissions, wind patterns and other meteorological and physical conditions to ascertain if the ban had a positive impact on Delhi’s air. Initial data shows that while polluted, this year the day after Diwali was less polluted than last year’s for sure.
Moral of the story? Bans are wonderful, especially because they provide immediate action to a people long inured to real change. But in the long run, bans are almost worthless especially when they don’t really work or peter out, because they put people off, add to a sense of general despair, break-down systems instead of kickstarting them into action, absolve personal responsibility and lead to the question, ‘Now What?”
The family planning bans during the Emergency not only led to immediate disastrous results but also put India back several decades in the organic growth of family planning activities. Then there was the Delhi government’s odd-even-day motor vehicular ban, which fell apart the second time around because the car people found one or another loophole to marginalise it.
Certainly, there’s no alternative to a partnership between governments and its people in the implementation of behavior change, including in the matter of reducing pollution. Public transport is one of the best ways to do so, but the Union government has just hiked Metro fares for the second time in six months, causing a fall in ridership and putting more pressure on buses. Other alternatives include the banning of diesel generator sets, as well as cleaning up the city.
The Supreme Court offered one point of view on reducing pollution in and around Diwali. But now that Diwali is over, perhaps the Delhi government as well as the Centre could work together on this very pressing issue where the health of several million of its citizens are at stake? Or would that be expecting too much from both elected leaders, Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi?