Sunday, November 27, 2022

Diwali debate

As the popular festival of lights or Diwali is just around the corner, the Hindu community in particular and other would-be celebrants in general, await the day with mixed feelings. Unlike in the past when Diwali was welcomed with bursting of crackers throughout the night; of late, there has been demands to ban bursting of firecrackers in view of air pollution which have become serious matters. The air pollution in mega cities, particularly the national capital, is worst. Over the years, celebratory fireworks during Diwali has become a sensitive topic in India, with many Hindus arguing that a cracker ban is discriminatory. Several celebrities, who have done anti-cracker campaigns, have been also accused of hurting religious sentiments. Delhi is notorious for being dangerously polluted on the average day, but in October and November – when festivals like Dussehra and Diwali are celebrated – fears about pollution seem to reach a peak. Smog caused by bursting crackers penetrate homes and worsens those having eye and lung problems. For weeks to come, pollution levels in Delhi air will continue to spike until a yearly record is broken. The smog-filled air, which covers the city during this time, contains dangerously high levels of fine particulate matter called PM2.5 – tiny particles that can clog lungs and cause a host of diseases. This year too, air quality is expected to dip to the “very poor” category ahead of the festival on October 24, due to calm winds and the stable atmospheric conditions. In Delhi, against the backdrop of worsening pollution levels, mostly caused by stubble burning, the AAP environment minister has warned that those who burst firecrackers in Delhi during Diwali will face up to six months in jail. The rules are part of a broader ban on firecrackers announced in September to help curb extreme pollution. There are two kinds of pollution- air and noise pollution. Delhi is the world’s most polluted capital and smog has become part of the life threatening reality. Various factors such as factory emissions, traffic fumes, and general weather patterns contribute to the high pollution levels in the city. The air turns particularly toxic every winter when farmers in neighbouring states burn crop stubble and fireworks during Diwali only worsen the air quality as low wind speeds trap the pollutants in the lower atmosphere. Firecrackers are symbolic of celebration, of extravagance, and good luck. While India is notoriously known for its adoration for firecrackers each year during the October-November festival cycle, these strings of paper and chemicals are unnervingly bad for the health, more so now than ever before. With each firecracker, chemicals like copper, lead, magnesium, sodium, etc. are released too, which settle on surfaces. Complemented by pollutants like sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide, the miniscule particles affect health without those who breath the air, feeling any direct effects. These days technology may be offering the best solution for the problem during Diwali. Electronic crackers producing light and sound mimicking real crackers are already there. E-crackers should get government incentives and become part and parcel of Diwali. Of course, there is nothing that can substitute the old crackers but sometimes there is need to give up some old harmful habits.

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