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Supreme Court order on firecrackers violated: Delhi pollution soars, but who cares when sab chalta hai?

India Debobrat Ghose | Nov 08, 2018

The fact that Diwali 2018 didn’t leave us as breathless as in the past wasn't welcomed by a few insensitive souls who decided to burst firecrackers in a blatant violation of Supreme Court orders in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) on Wednesday. Giving fewer than two hoots for the Supreme Court order on bursting crackers and the restrictions imposed, a large number of people across Delhi and NCR burnt crackers on Wednesday evening well before and much beyond the prescribed time limit.

The violators included the Delhi BJP leader and spokesperson Tajinder Singh Bagga, who said that he would buy firecrackers worth Rs 50,000 and distribute them to children living at Hari Nagar slums for Diwali celebrations. "It won’t be a violation or defamation of the Supreme Court order, because the court has only banned the sale of firecrackers. There is no ban on buying or bursting them," Bagga reportedly said.

The order of the apex court was flouted in many ways — from burning non-green crackers to exceeding the time limit; from non-compliance of law to no spot action by the police.

The signs were ominous on Wednesday afternoon as a 'sab chalta hai' and 'who cares?' attitude overpowered the law. People started bursting crackers, although in small numbers, in many parts of the National Capital during the day to mark the festival.

Supreme Court order

The Supreme Court, on 23 October, imposed restrictions on the use and sale of firecrackers in an attempt to control rising levels of air pollution across India — particularly in Delhi and the NCR. The apex court allowed a two-hour window (8 to 10 pm) between which crackers could be burst. The order also mentioned that crackers could only be sold by vendors holding proper licences and online sales were banned. The court emphatically said that only 'green crackers' that are low on emissions and noise would be allowed.

The most flagrant was the BJP leader Bagga's attitude — which raises a question mark on the sense of civic responsibility of the political class of the country. And the inability of the top BJP leadership to rein in such elements points says a lot about the implementation of order at government-level.

This attitude of political leadership has also been a factor that made the common man confident about flouting the law. "Our political leaders and lawmakers have been flouting laws. The police has been acting as a mute spectator and not taking any on-the-spot action against the violators of the Supreme Court order. You can see how people are bursting high emission crackers and high-decibel bombs on streets and residential areas even at 11.30 pm. Everyone knows nothing good is going to happen in Delhi," said SC Dayal, a senior citizen and resident of Kalkaji in South Delhi.

Control over the police is already a bone of contention between the Centre and the Delhi government. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on many occasions had said that as the jurisdiction over the police lies with the Centre, maintaining law and order in the National Capital becomes difficult for the Delhi government. On Wednesday night, however, Twitter users across the country complained that the deadline had been violated and police action was apparently missing. It was not just about Delhi-NCR; the situation was no better in other parts of the country.

In the name of religion

In north India, Diwali is celebrated to mark the day of return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya, after the completion of his 14-year-long exile. People celebrated the return of their 'King' by decorating their homes and the streets with lamps. "But there is no mention of bursting of crackers anywhere in Ramayana or Ramcharitmanas. In fact, crackers were not invented then. So, why do we burst crackers now and that too when the pollution has reached a hazardous level?" asked Kabeer, a 16-year-old student in a central Delhi school, who suffers from a respiratory disorder.

According to historical facts, the first use of gunpowder in India was recorded in the mid-13th Century AD. The story of Ramayana certainly predates this. The celebration of a festival doesn't mean causing inconvenience to others.

Clueless about green crackers

The Supreme Court, in its order, emphasised that only 'green crackers' would be allowed. But neither the firecracker sellers nor the consumers are aware of this. The apex court prohibited the sale and use of fireworks containing barium compounds, as emissions from these crackers and bombs leave hazardous toxins in the air. Green crackers — with low light, low sound, low content of hazardous chemicals and lesser emission of toxins — have not been produced or sold in India yet. Many firework dealers sold traditional crackers in the name of 'green crackers' to clear their old inventory.

"We don’t have any idea about green crackers. Never heard of it. As I have already incurred losses and I'm unable to clear my old stock, I'm not selling crackers this season due to the ban," a firecracker dealer in East Delhi said.

But that doesn’t mean firecrackers weren’t available to citizens. Many overenthusiastic people who take pride in openly flouting laws, brought in crackers and bombs from Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Noida, the Meerut highway, etc. Many dealers in Delhi disposed of their old stock illegally.

Post-Diwali impact

Already at the receiving end of hazardous levels of air pollution, Delhi and NCR saw the air quality further deteriorating post-Diwali. According to the Air Quality Index (AQI), Delhi has fallen to the 'dangerous' category, as AQI in some areas in the National Capital touched the maximum level of 999 this morning. Needless to say, it would adversely impact citizens, especially children and those who suffer from respiratory disorders.

"How is a happy Diwali possible in such a highly polluted NCR? We're living in illusions," remarked activist and lawyer, Ashok Agarwal of Legal Jurist.

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