In the wake of today’s tragedy at the Paravur Puttingal temple in Kerala, spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi has questioned the need to use fireworks in temple festivals. With religious leaders weighing in on the issue, it is entirely possible to mobilise public opinion on banning unregulated fireworks altogether.
Here are five reasons why indiscriminate use of firecrackers should be banned.
1. The Supreme Court on July 18, 2005 came out with guidelines on noise pollution that reiterated its earlier stand on banning noisy firecrackers between 10 pm and 6 am during festivals like Diwali. The explosion at the Paravur temple took place around 3 am after the fireworks programme that began around midnight went out of control.
2. In another 2005 directive to the Department of Explosives, the Supreme Court said fireworks must be evaluated on the basis of their chemical composition. The firecrackers used in temple festivals are usually hand-made locally, and do not follow any such regulations. Their chemical compositions is not displayed.
3. The existing regulations on fireworks displays are inadequate. The Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organistion (PESO) of the Government of India came up with guidelines three years after the apex court directive, and mandated the amount of sulphur content, nitrates and aluminium powder in firecrackers, but failed to include metals such as copper and magnesium that are used in colouring, and are lethal to humans. This means that even if firecrackers are purchased from government-authorised fireworks makers, we’re polluting the air with unregulated amounts of toxic material.
4. Fireworks are not central to Diwali. Gunpowder, the ingredient that makes firecrackers burst with a loud bang, was discovered by the Chinese about 2000 years ago. But there is nothing to suggest that Diwali just has to be celebrated in a noisy manner. So, why not just go back to the so-called golden age that we love referring to, and keep it simple with lamps and diyas and ditch the bombs?
5. There have been innumerable instances of fireworks stockpiles catching fire and taking lives. Every time Diwali or a temple or church festival is celebrated using fireworks, we are taking a huge risk.
One may argue that if stored properly and the guidelines are followed, there is no need to ban fireworks outright. But the continuing loss of lives due to rampant violation of norms and guidelines on the use of explosives makes for a good enough reason to ban the noisy, polluting fireworks altogether.