While manufacturers said there were no ‘green firecrackers’ in existence, activists find the order ambiguous and raised concerns about its eventual effectiveness.
K Mariappan, general secretary of Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers’ Association, which represents the Rs 6,000 crore industry, said the direction on use of only ‘green crackers’ won’t work as “there is no such thing”.
“We need to explain to the court that we cannot produce such (green) crackers. We may reduce the chemicals used in manufacturing. But it will take more time,” said Mariappan, whose association has decided to file a review petition on the court verdict.
The court, in its order, said that the permissible limit of sound and smoke would be approved by Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), which works on the regulation of public safety aspects related to explosive substances. Mariappan pointed out that crackers were produced only after approval from the PESO.
Some like Gufran Beig of the System of the Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) said use of ‘green crackers’ and restriction on timing were good steps. “Any such item which produces minimal toxicity and minimal fumes can be termed as a green firecracker,” he said.
However, questioning the rationale of the order and also expressing doubt over its effectiveness, Shweta Narayan, coordinator, the Healthy Energy Initiative – India, said: “In TN, the festival is celebrated in the morning. Moreover, it looks like the SC has only seen air pollution as a problem in the North, when it is a pan-India issue,” she said.
Shweta also questioned the stakeholders’ will in implementing it. “Do they have the manpower? How does one know the contents in the crackers that have barium and no barium? The onus seems to be on the citizens to find out what crackers are green or toxic.”
G Sundararajan of Poovulagin Nanbargal, a people’s movement, called for stricter measures, arguing that when it comes to pollution, there was no halfway house. “If the courts are more concerned about the livelihood of those in the cracker units, the government has to work towards rehabilitating them through skill training and micro credits. We are doing the same with the plastic ban with lakhs working in the industry.”
Meanwhile, industry bodies, which peg the firecracker market at around Rs 20,000 crore per annum, said the court order would have a significant impact on sales. Praveen Khandelwal, Secretary-General of the Confederation of All-India Traders’ said the imports from China accounted for Rs 5,000 crore of the annual sales. “The apex court order will definitely impact sales, but is difficult to quantify losses as the industry operates mostly unorganised,” he said. Chinese crackers are more toxic and the apex court ruling aimed at improving the quality of air during the festival season is a good move, he added.
People disappointed, movie buffs an angry lot
The SC ruling on crackers seems to have put a huge damper on the people’s plans for the festival in Tamil Nadu.
For most people here, Deepavali traditionally starts early: The family wakes up early, gets dressed in new attire, and then take to the streets to enjoy their firework haul, with the children especially in full gaiety. Now without that part of the day to look forward to, as well as the ban on stringed crackers that has meant the end of 500, 1000 and 10,000 ‘walas’, people are looking at a very sombre festival season.
“Every year, we wake up at 7 am, have the traditional oil bath and special breakfast, watch celebrity interviews on TV, and then head out in our new clothes to burst crackers along with the whole neighbourhood. Even my elderly parents join in. This has been a ritual since I was a kid. There’s no way we can suddenly change it this year,” says Ayappan, a dhobiwala who lives with his parents, wife and two children in T Nagar.
There are others who feel this has been done keeping only a North Indian cultural perspective in mind. Shakuntala Ramnath, a homemaker from Kodambakkam says the ruling is not favourable to people in the south. “In places like Mumbai and Delhi, they light divas in the evening, go to temples, and celebrate on the streets well unto midnight. But for us Tamilians, we usually finish bursting crackers before heading off to watch the new movies in the theatre or at home, where the whole extended family would gather as everyone has a holiday.”
For yet others like 17-year-old Murugan, a college student who is a die-hard fan of actor Vijay, it is a double whammy. “This is unacceptable on many levels. Whether it is Pongal or Deepavali release, my friends and I burst a 1000-wala for every Thalapathy film at 5 am. Sarkar is coming out on a festival day, which makes it all the more so special! But now they are telling us we can’t burst walas and that we can only burst the other crackers at night. We have outgrown flower pots and sparklers. Secondly, there’s no way we can let the theaters be silent this year. We honestly don’t care about the rules; let the cops come, we will see what happens.”
No equipment to measure decibel level: Police
The Supreme Court’s direction to use only low decibel and emission crackers may not be easy – or even possible – for the law enforcement agencies to implement, with police officers acknowledging that they did not have any equipment to measure the decibel levels of the firecrackers or the smoke they emit. “There are no instruments to measure the decibel levels of the firecrackers, but the senior officers might direct the licensing branch of the Delhi Police to frame some guidelines for issuing licenses,” an inspector posted in the central district of Delhi said.
According to another officer from the central district, shopkeepers have expressed their inability to procure ‘green firecrackers’ within 15 days. Some of them have informed the police that they do not have any fresh stock of firecrackers, adding that their stocks were two years old and that they would not be able to get fresh stocks in such a short period of time. In the absence of any proper equipment or guidelines, police officers said they would have to rely on human intelligence and their sources on ground to find out whether norms were being violated. “It will be a difficult task to monitor whether shopkeepers are following guidelines since it will be Deepavali time when crackers are sold in bulk quantities. Beat officers will have to be sensitised to ensure norms are not flouted,” another officer added.