BENGALURU: Air and noise pollution is affecting not just children and senior citizens, but also adults. This is the reason why industrial zones are created and no-honking zones are demarcated. But are they strictly followed? Experts and citizens express concern on this count, with the circular issued by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) on October 18, 2022, to control air and noise pollution.
KSPCB issued a series of circulars addressing citizens, educational and health institutions, district administrations, police and other government agencies, stating that as per Supreme Court directions, bursting of crackers during Deepavali festive days is permitted only from 8pm to 10pm in designated places. The circular also stated that only green crackers are permitted.
Citizens and experts point out that the directions, with the aim of controlling air and noise pollution, are good but have been issued in haste, without proper groundwork. The KSPCB, along with the police and district administration, is yet to identify and mark designated spaces for bursting of crackers.
“The orders and action are too late. Festivities are an annual affair, the health hazards that arise post the festivities are also known, so work in this direction should have started at least five months ahead. A dialogue with citizens and proper communication should have started to raise awareness. It is more important as celebrations in the past two years were dull due to the pandemic,” point out activists.
The government has been trying to take stern steps to control air and noise pollution after cases were filed in multiple courts across India on polluted air, including in the Supreme Court. The most discussed case in the apex court was WP 728/2015, where the petition was filed on behalf of three infants, raising questions on air pollution levels in the national capital.
While Bengaluru takes centre stage in the aim to control air pollution, experts point out that the situation is similar and worrisome in other districts too, including Belagavi, Mangaluru and Hubballi-Dharwad.
They point out that instead of focusing on the state capital, dialogue and awareness should be widespread and more focused on other districts, as working populations have moved to their hometowns for a grand festival this season.
Activists say this is not the first time courts and KSPCB have issued directions on controlling the sale and bursting of crackers, and also setting a time duration, but the strictures are not followed. Citizens do not follow rules, and the reason is that the festival comes only once a year. Vehicles are a bigger cause of air pollution. Some also fear that the issue is being communalised, activists point out.
“Awareness programmes to instil self-realisation should have been taken up earlier. People get a thrill violating rules, besides, various communities have different timings and reasons for bursting crackers. It is also humanly impossible for police to be omnipresent to penalise all violators. Thus, involving resident welfare associations, commercial and industrial associations from the beginning would have been ideal,” Harini Nagendra, Professor of Sustainability at Azim Premji University, said.
Activists also pointed out that bursting of crackers should be addressed not just once a year, but be banned for good -- more so during political rallies and celebrations. But KSPCB is unable to act against them. The Board has also been unable to control noise pollution by various sources -- loud and shrill horns, religious organisations, industries etc.
A retired KSPCB official, seeking anonymity, said: “Addressing the issue of air and noise pollution has never been the agenda of any government. The orders have been issued for the heck of it, as there are court directions. If the government was truly concerned, it should have started with addressing vehicular pollution, and ensuring that more no-honking zones are created in the state. It is well known that KSPCB is a toothless tiger and can only issue circulars, implementation is not taken seriously by anyone as the decision-makers are not affected by the effects of pollution.”
A doctor, also a member of the Technical Advisory Committee working with the government on Covid-19, compared the combustion and release of pollutants from crackers to that of combustion of vehicles on a busy road like Mysuru Road or a jam-packed traffic signal, as being on par.
KSPCB chairman Shanth A Thimmaiah, however, said their main focus is to create awareness. “Apart from air and noise pollution, the bigger worry is waste management. We have given directions keeping in mind the revised Petrol and Explosives and Safety Organisation (Peso) norms. It will happen gradually, but a start has been made. A complete change in Ganesha idols has also not yet happened, but improvements in the right direction are visible. Police will also undertake random sampling, auditing and checking along with health officials. It is a continuous process,” he said.
Doctors also demand that awareness be created. They state that while air pollution is behind the increase of patients with respiratory and lung infections post festival, the weather also plays a role. Dr Ravindra Mehta, head of Pulmonary Services, Apollo, Bengaluru, said that last year, there was no problem because of Covid, now one would have to analyse the reason. Patients already affected by respiratory issues report diseases, and new cases of respiratory irritation see a rise because of various gases released in large quantities in a small location, affecting the lungs.
CRACKERS ASSOCIATION RAISES QUESTIONS
Members of the Crackers’ Association point out that the government is showing double standards. Manufacture and sale of crackers is not banned, but it is indirectly putting pressure from other quarters which is affecting their business.
They recollect: “When initially the ban was imposed by the Supreme Court and questions were raised in Delhi, the governments of Karnataka and other states had said that manufacture and sale should be stopped. They had also assured that they would address the issue of alternative employment, but that has still not happened.”
While many states manufacture crackers, Sivakasi alone has 1,060 industries and meets 90 per cent of the country’s demand. At present, the units are working on 30-40 per cent capacity and production has been hit.
G Abiruben, vice-president of Crackers Association, said that despite the orders, there is drop in demand. So sales are not affected, but manufacturing is. Over 30 per cent has been hit because the production of ‘laris’ (long chain of cracker) has stopped. However, those who have old stocks continue to sell them.