New Delhi: Each year, Diwali festivities leave the air in Delhi thick with deadly smog and suspended particles, posing a serious health threat as it leads to medical problems like breathing issues, allergies and asthma attacks. Last year post Diwali, and on the back of crop burning in Punjab and Haryana, the air pollution in Delhi was said to be at dangerous levels and the worst in 10 years. After the festival, the Supreme Court in November 2016, in response to a 2015 petition flagging the alarming rise in pollution levels after Diwali by three young children between six years and 14 months old, banned the sale of crackers within the National Capital region. The Supreme Court however in September this year suspended the ban and allowed the sale of crackers, saying a complete ban would be an “extreme step”, and a “graded approach” was needed to tackle pollution. But considering the air pollution levels get dangerously high during Diwali, the top court has re-imposed the ban on cracker sales till November 1 in Delhi, the 11th worst polluted city in the world according to a report by World Health Organisation (WHO). On one side, Delhi’s top doctors not only welcomed the decision prohibiting the sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR but declared air pollution a ‘public health emergency’.
Delhi’s prominent doctors came together to discuss the ill effects of air pollution and expressed the hope that ban on firecrackers sales would ensure a relatively cleaner Diwali this year. They even urged people to celebrate green Delhi.
However, the firecracker sellers and manufacturers are against the ban and said that their earnings will be hit hard. Many fear huge losses, claiming that they are left with stacks of unsold firecrackers worth lakhs. “We already have stock from the last year. A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court ordered us to sell the firecrackers, now after the ban the stock that we have bought this year would go on for sale next year. It’s a huge loss,” said Ajit, President, Firecracker Market Association, Delhi.
Responding to the concerns raised by firecracker sellers, Dr Arvind Kumar, Head of Lung Foundation said, “People whose livelihood have been affected by the ban of firecrackers can find another source of livelihood or even a job but individuals whose lung would get affected due to breathing toxic air will never get its healthy lung back.”
While highlighting the difference it makes to person’s lungs just in the time around Diwali, Dr Kumar said, “As chest surgeon I have been looking at lungs for the last 25 years, and I have noticed a sea change in the color of lungs. 25 years back, I would mostly see pink lungs in non-smokers body and blackish kind of lung in smokers’ body. But these days, even in teenagers who are non-smokers, we have seen blackish area (deposited toxins) in the lungs. It’s a matter of grave concern. He added that those suffering from chronic pulmonary diseases or having weak immunity could develop serious short term and long term lung damage.
Pollution is not a religious or a political issue, but a serious medical issue – a national health emergency. Health consequences due to air pollution are going to be disastrous and the time to act is now, Mr Kumar further added.
Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director of Medanta welcomed the ban and said, “There are two aspects of it – one is culture wherein people are questioning why the court has banned the sale of crackers, the other part is reality that we are living in toxic gas chambers, which is just anti-human. For asthma patients, it is like poison. Children are the most vulnerable lot as the toxins present in the polluted air actually affect the development of brain in developing children.”
Adding to what heart specialist Dr Trehan said, Dr Harsh Mahajan, Founder & Chief Radiologist, Mahajan Imaging, stated that the usage of firecrackers on Diwali acts as a catalyst to take the air pollution beyond the permissible limits. Children should be aware of the ill effects of air pollution and they should act as game changer to actually motivate their families to stop firing the firecrackers. “The ban of firecrackers is just an attempt to highlight the fact that air pollution becomes horrendous during Diwali,” Dr Mahajan added.
While speaking on how air pollution can be curbed and if the ban on firecrackers sale would help in the longer run, Dr Navin Dang of Dr Dangs Lab said, “I wish and I hope that health becomes an election issue. Till the time, health becomes an election issue at national level; it will never get the priority it deserves. Dr Dang also advocated the need to change this concept among children that Diwali is not just a festival for firing firecrackers but is a festival of light, peace and happiness.
With the ban on sale of firecrackers, people will not stop; they will ultimately find a way out to buy the crackers. Rather, we should ban the usage of fire crackers in the larger interest of children, in the general interest of the nation, Dr Dang further added.
Notably, the Supreme Court’s verdict of banning the sale of firecrackers ahead of Diwali is a step taken to assess whether such a ban has an effect on improving the air quality. The court at the same time also said those who had firecrackers can still burst them on October 19, when people across the country will celebrate the festival of lights by lighting lamps and bursting crackers.
Though the top court has banned the sale of firecrackers stating, “There is virtually a consensus in the society that fire crackers should not be burnt during Diwali. Adverse effects have been witnessed year after year. Air Quality deteriorates abysmally and alarmingly, and the city chokes. The air pollution even leads to closing of schools as it affects congnitive development in 7-10 year olds.” But the big question is how this will be implemented, as there’s no ban of lighting the firecrackers.