Firecrackers are no good. Neither is the ambient air in the vast Delhi metropolitan continuum. Dangerous SPM levels make it one of the worst urban zones in the world in terms of air pollution. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable, which is why Union Minister Harsh Vardhan, a doctor who has done some seminal work with the WHO, welcomed the blanket ban the Supreme Court imposed on cracker-bursting on Diwali. Without condoning the angry trolls who forced him to retreat, a question does arise: Is it upon the courts to decide how citizens celebrate festivals?
It’s true, toxicity was never what the festival of lights was supposed to be. But there’s no denying crackers add to its carnivalesque nature. Can any society do without a bit of celebration? A blanket ban will do what prohibition always does, push it outside the law. Will cops patrol Delhi’s streets arresting little boys who break the law? Instead of traders and small retailers, our ubiquitous beat constable may lighten up his wallet! Yes, the capital’s air was unbreathable a day after last year’s Diwali.
Planned restriction, stricter time-limits and a structured phasing-out of the more toxic crackers may be desirable—along with awareness creation on the equivalent of cigarettes each pyrotechnic amounts to (they vary, but the ratios are frightening). Not total prohibition.
Once the judiciary gets into domains far away from delivery of justice and interpreting the law, where can it stop? Responding to the right to clean life for children and those with respiratory problems is the executive’s job. It needs a coordinated plan. Will a green Diwali improve Delhi’s air?—no. Not as long as farmers in Haryana-Punjab burn their stubble, instead of hiring labour to remove them.
Or the unregulated construction industry spews columns of dust. Or diesel vehicles jam the streets. As long as these remain, bronchial choking and other ailments will remain in epidemic proportions. A quieter Diwali may sound good to those with subtler tastes, but may be an empty showpiece.