Diwali: Of Lights, Crackers, and Pollution...

By Florine Roche

Mangalore, Oct 25: Deepavali the festival of lights is India’s national festival, a festival that reflects our ethos, our culture, our tradition and our way of life. Though, essentially a Hindu festival, over the years it has acquired the status of a festival that transcends all barriers of caste, race, language and religion, true to our unity in diversity. Deepavali symbolizes the triumph of good over the iniquitous and the diyas lit on the moonlight signify dispelling darkness or ignorance with light that can fill us with enlightenment and knowledge. Hence the name deep (light) avail (rows) Deepavali. As part of the festival the entire country is lit with beautiful lights and there are also fireworks. Fireworks are supposed to scare away evil spirits.

For most people especially for children lighting firecrackers is the highlight of Deepavali. The brighter the sparkles, the greater the grandeur and louder the noise the greater is the thrill. However, in our country it must be admitted that fireworks or crackers are no longer unique to Deepavali. Be it festivals, marriages, celebrations, anniversaries, electoral wins, political rallies, processions, or sports victories (cricket), crackers have become an all-round phenomena and the sound of crackers resonate throughout the ear. From the much enjoyed merriment witnessed during Deepavali the transition to today’s year-long use of crackers is an evil that spells nothing but doom and is parlous. It is time people go for noiseless celebration of Deepavali, to start with, to give a reprieve to the people from the deafening noise pollution caused by crackers.

Today the real meaning of bursting crackers seems to have been lost to a great extent as grand fireworks have become a status symbol for the vulgar display of ill-gotten wealth for the rich and others are either cowed down by their sheer money and muscle power and blindly follow them. For them it has become fashionable to use fireworks in a manner that causes maximum distress and annoyance to people with scant disregard to the impact it has on environment. With pollution levels in most of our citizens already in the danger zone little do people realize that fireworks make way for toxic substances that enfold the atmosphere which are deleterious to the health of all living beings. In Mangalore, the city inhabited by intelligent and enlightened and citizens there is an increasing tendency over the years to create more noise and greater sparkle in a manner that will stand out by its grandeur by the rich and the powerful.

If we go by the extent of air, water and noise pollution that results from the wanton usage of fireworks, we really need to give a thought to enjoy Deepavali by restricting the usage of fireworks to a great extent. Fireworks results in the release of toxic substances like copper, cadmium, lead, magnesium, sodium, zinc , nitrate and nitrite and can lead to respiratory problems, anemia, damage to kidney, vomiting, coma, cancer, hearing loss and can aggravate many other existing diseases. The toxic substances also cause immense suffering to the flora and the fauna. Everyone seems to conveniently forget the verdict passed by the Supreme Court in 2005 which considers bursting of crackers between 10.00 pm and 6.00 am as an offence.

Creating awareness about the perils of this reckless usage of fireworks seems to be the only way to reduce the pollution. More often than not the general tendency is to blame the children saying they are oblivious of the impact of fireworks on the environment. Environment Officer Laxman of Pollution Control Board, Baikampady says that their department has taken the initiative to create awareness among students by distributing posters and pamphlets highlighting the dangers of fireworks. He says parents often complain that they are unable to convince their children. “We are not saying not to use fireworks. Through these posters we are trying to create awareness by highlighting the impact of the mindless use of crackers. If children can be convinced it is like winning half the battle”, Laxman pointed out.

The Pollution Control Board of Mangalore has made arrangements to monitor noise levels at two places in the city so as to check whether the pollution levels increase the prescribed limits during this time around the festival. According to Laxman for the last three years there has been no increase in the pollution levels in Mangalore, which is no doubt a matter of gratification. But it is not a cause for celebration because there has been no decrease either which should have, considering the efforts to create awareness in the past few years. Hence there is an urgency to bring down the pollution levels from the present level so that we can heave a sigh of relief and continue the efforts towards further reducing it. Laxman stated that his department is working in tandem with the police department to ensure the safety of the fireworks during this deepavali by testing some samples of crackers sold in the market.

However, there is a greater need to educate the elders and the enlightened citizens to restrict the usage of fireworks. There has been an increase in Carbon Monoxide in the atmosphere from vehicle pollution, which we know is not easy to curtail. But we can certainly prevent further harm to the milieu we live in through some simple measures such as reducing the usage of fireworks and by going for lower decibels level crackers. Exercising some restrain can also prevent the accidents that usually occur due to firecrackers. Will our enlightened citizens pay some attention to this to ponder and act before it is too late?