VIRUDHUNAGAR: Environmental activists lament the babel about the rights of the cracker industry workers have muffled the impact of the sparklers on the soil. And once again, blue-collared toilers and nature lovers are at crossroads, begging an answer to the question of choosing the nature or nurturing its residents and whether it is possible to pick them both.
Social activist Nityanand Jayaraman says the need to ban something can be done away with when something is done responsibly. “Now things have gotten so desperate that one person’s right to celebrate should be balanced with another’s right to life. The need of the hour is a cultural shift in which people learn to celebrate their festivals responsibly. Our government’s policies must be grounded in changing the cultural notion of celebrations.”
Commenting on the condition of cracker industry workers, he said, “We need to brace ourselves for the ban impact. He asks what has been done in the last year by the government for workers and small-scale investors? Neither the workers nor the manufacturers should be blamed for the pollution. The responsibility now falls on the shoulders of the government and the civic society,” he adds. “If the ban route is taken, labour justice aspect should be addressed as well. Or else we are infringing on somebody else’s life,” he exhorts. If an economic activity destroys the environment, it is not profitable. The current economic model exploits the environment and the people living in it, Nityanand added.
Need to create alternatives
Speaking to TNIE, Sundarrajan from Poovulagu welcomed the Delhi government’s move to ban the crackers. “Fireworks came into popular use in the 1950s or 60s. How did people celebrate before that?” he asks. He says the argument of ‘livelihood for lakhs of workers dependent on the sector’ has dragged on for many years. “We have to move them to other sustainable fields soon. The government should take the charge,” he said, adding that nearly 2.5 lakh people were dependent on lottery ticket sales when it was banned. About green crackers, Sundarrajan said that even with such crackers, the emissions can only be reduced and not zeroed. When the angle of the export hub was brought up, he said environmentalists were asking for a ban only in India as lakhs of people here are dying each year due to air pollution.
‘No study at the local level’
While there are many dialogues surrounding pollution levels in cities, there are only a few researches at the local level. M Manikandan, assistant professor at Sivakasi Ayyanadar Janakiyammal College, had done a study in 2016 titled ‘Causes and Effects of Air Pollution — A Study with Sivakasi Taluk’. He stated 30.2 per cent of residents were affected by wheezing; 61.10 per cent residents lived in industrial areas and 55.5 per cent lived in an area with over two industries.
Also, the study said industrial units (26.7 per cent) were the second-largest source of air pollution following vehicles (44.4 per cent). He told TNIE, “Though no other research has been done recently to size up the level of impact of industrial units in the district, the tentacles of air pollution is choking the residents.”
Following Achankulam fire accident, NGT directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board ‘to monitor the ambient air quality in all clusters of firework factories...and to quantify the impact of the incidental explosion on environment by installation of ambient air quality stations’. However, an interim stay on the NGT order was obtained by an association due to which monitoring work got halted.