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Delhi's cracker fiasco: Let's put our act together before next Diwali
The recent ban imposed by the Supreme Court on the sale of crackers in Delhi only shows that some Public Interest Litigations can lead to knee jerk reactions, leading nowhere.

These, in turn make a mockery of the judicial system and of grave matters of public safety and health. To control anything hazardous, both the supply side and the demand side have to be plugged. Egged on by the media, politicians and clerics jump into the fray. They thereby draw up communal battle lines, thereby unnecessarily vitiating the atmosphere. These are matters which are in the domain of environment specialists, health authorities, civic planners and regulatory authorities.

The ban was so open-ended, that it was bound to fail. The Delhi fiasco has only shown how as a nation, we citizens have no regard for the common good. If we were responsible citizens, we would not have bought and burnt hazardous and noisy crackers. Ban or no ban! Children can have enough fun with phuljharis, chakkars and spouting flower pots. Why must we compete with our neighbours by blasting crackers, ominously named 'atom bombs'?

The Indian government needs to take the lead in the following matters:

1.Classification of fireworks and regulation of the industry is a burning need (pun intended!):

A team of experts needs to classify 'safe' and 'unsafe' fireworks. The Indian Bureau of Standards needs to standardise the actual mix of chemicals which go into the various categories. Import/manufacture, sale and use of 'unsafe' fireworks should be banned across the nation.

2.Regulating the industry:

Mostly the manufacture of coloured matches, agarbattis and fireworks is in the informal sector. And as of now it is not amenable to any standards compliance. The working conditions in most of these are sub human, besides handling hazardous materials. Fire and deaths are commonplace.

Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi claims that the industry employs at least one lakh child labourers. When we buy fireworks, let us spare a moment on the plight of the exploited child. The government needs to intervene. According to Satyarthi, these children are made to work in dark rooms, hidden from the public view.

3.Regulating the use of fireworks and crackers:

Ever since the ancient Chinese discovered the explosive mix, which they used for rockets, the Chinese, Indians and Arabs have used it both for warfare and celebrations. This practice was introduced to Europe in early 19th century.

No one is a kill joy, to suggest the ban on use of fireworks totally. The world over, fireworks are part of celebrations, possibility on a grander scale than we see here. But over time some safe practices have evolved.

In the US, private citizens can buy a very limited range of safe fireworks ('consumer fireworks'), mostly for special days like Independence Day and on New Year Eve. It is mandatory for each one to clear the litter off the road into the garbage cans.

'Fireworks laws in urban areas typically limit sales or use by dates or seasons. Municipalities may have stricter laws than their counties or states do. The Consumer Product Safety Commission defines what fireworks may be considered consumer fireworks. Consumer fireworks in the United States are limited to 500 grams of composition, and firecrackers may have up to 50 milligrams of flash powder. Any fireworks that exceed these limits are not considered consumer fireworks and need a license.'

Elsewhere, one sees abroad fireworks the year round, to mark one event or the other. But these are public displays. On Oman's National Day, in Muscat there is an alluring fireworks competition, where teams from different countries come to compete. For the public, it is a relaxed family evening picnic, having parked ourselves at one vantage point or the other. The fireworks are remotely fired from platforms, which are far away from residential areas. The visiting teams fire their sparkling choreographed paintings in the sky, guided by their computer programs. I was spellbound when a French team painted the sky with sparkling palm trees which hung over the horizon, for quite some time.

In Honolulu, we have often watched choreographed fireworks in the sky, launched from platforms floating in the sea. Here too, the families sprawl themselves along the beach. All in a holiday mood, and above all safe! No wheezing, coughing or breathlessness.

Perhaps, we too should look at such possibilities.

4.Spreading public awareness:

The schools in our neighbourhood in Mumbai are teaching the kids early enough the need for living a healthy green lifestyle. Matters of good civic sense, and understanding the need for curbing air and noise pollution! Each successive Diwali though bright and sparkling, is quieter than the previous one, and fireworks used are the safer too. Post Diwali, our roads are clearer than before. Once in a while, there is a bang, but it's an aberration. It's the kids who tell the parents, what to buy and what not to buy. Last Holi also, the school did a round of our locality, urging door to door to use herbal gulal!

Public awareness programs need to be intensified.

5.'Make in India':

The entire world seems to have outsourced most of its manufacturing to China.

My mind militates against the idea of importing low-tech items like fireworks and our very own plastic gods from China. My friends, who run small scale industries, tell me that each item the Chinese manufacture is produced in huge quantities. Hence they have the advantage of scale. Nevertheless, the department that promotes 'Make in India' should work out the scaling up, by clubbing firework manufacturers into co-operatives and rationalising their operations. This will certainly reduce the costs of the end product. Working conditions of those who work with hazardous materials also need as much attention. If we stop importing fireworks and plastic gods, this will create the much needed employment. One of the goals of 'Make in India'.

For the sake of supporting our small scale industries to rationalise, if we have to pay slightly more, we should do it. The net effect will be beneficial for the country. Ditto for our plastic gods! The least the Sangh Parivar can do is to encourage indigenous manufacture of our own gods and Diwali fireworks. Help the humble potters, craftsmen and small scale industry to come up.

During the sub-prime crisis of 2008 in USA, we saw posters and stickers all over the country suggesting: 'Be American! Buy American!'

Hope that our authorities will work out an integrated approach for the support of selective low-tech industries. We also have to pledge ourselves to: 'Be Indian! Buy Indian!', in these areas.

Above all as responsible citizens, through our individual choices let us reduce our use of toxic and dangerous products, which endanger public safety and public health. We owe it to our children! The courts don't have to tell us this.

We should also not confuse the issue of overall air and noise pollution in the metros, with once year occurrence of Diwali. Fireworks and crackers are a hazard and we need an integrated policy, which embraces the manufacture, transport, storage, sale and use of these hazardous materials by the public.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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