The National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) ban on the sale or use of firecrackers in the National Capital Region till November 30 has literally come as a gasp of breath. If strictly enforced, the order can help to counter the deadly cocktail formed by the Covid-19 pandemic and air pollution during the festive season. Importantly, this ban will be applicable to all cities and towns in the country where the average ambient air quality during November 2019 was poor or worse. Citing public health concerns, Delhi, Odisha, Rajasthan, Sikkim and Chandigarh have already prohibited firecrackers till the month-end or for an indefinite period.
Acknowledging every citizen’s right to breathe clean air, the NGT has observed that ‘celebration by crackers is for happiness and not to celebrate deaths and diseases.’ India has already lost more than 1.25 lakh lives to the pandemic, even as several states are witnessing a resurgence of the disease after a short-lived lull. That is reason enough to keep the festivities subdued, neither noisy nor smoky, confining ourselves to the lighting of lamps or other means of illumination and avoiding large gatherings.
Studies have found that particulate air pollution contributes 15 per cent to the Covid-19 mortality worldwide. Considering that India is among the countries worst affected by the virus, all states and union territories should ensure that the NGT’s well-intentioned initiative doesn’t go up in smoke. In 2018, the Supreme Court had banned the use of polluting firecrackers and allowed the sale of ‘green’ ones, an option endorsed by the tribunal for cities/towns where the air quality was moderate or better in November last year. However, the segregation of these products is easier said than done in view of dubious claims by manufacturers and vendors. A related direction, fixing hours for the bursting of crackers on Diwali, Gurpurb, Christmas etc. has largely proved to be futile due to lax implementation. While the ban is only for the short term, shunning firecrackers eventually ought to become a sane way of life — Covid or no Covid.