As a kid, every Indian must have studied a paragraph on Diwali saying “Diwali is a festival of lights”. Indeed it is. We see oil lamps lit up everywhere and people burning crackers, having a merry time. It is a significant Hindu festival as it marks the return of Lord Ram, along with his wife Sita and brother Laxman, to Ayodhya from a 14-year-long vanvaas (exile). It is believed that since it was an amawasi (no moon) night, the people of Ayodhya lit lamps to illuminate the city in the welcome of the defeater of Ravan.
On 9th October, which is today, the Supreme Court of India passed a verdict banning the sale of firecracker in the National Capital Region (NCR) till the November 1. This has turned a lot of heads since Diwali is due on 19th this month, .i.e. 10 days from today. A bench headed by Justice AK Sikri passed the verdict and added that the ban shall be temporarily lifted after 1st November and that the SC wants to “test the effect of banning firecrackers on air quality after Diwali”.
The step was driven by the increased level of suspended particulate air pollutants after Diwali 2016, which temporarily coated the NCR in a thick layer of smog, which was declared to be the worst in last 17 years, according to the stats.
The common Indian is not digesting the ban well though. Following the tendency these days, it is observed that the ban is being evaluated on religious grounds more than anything else. The famed writer of the novel “2 States” Chetan Bhagat also responded to it by tweeting a series of, which may be labelled as, communal tweets:
Tweet 1: “SC bans fireworks on Diwali? A full ban? What’s Diwali for children without crackers?”
Tweet 2: “Can I just ask on cracker ban. Why only guts to do this for Hindu festivals? Banning goat sacrifice and Muharram bloodshed soon too?”
Tweet 3: “Banning crackers on Diwali is like banning Christmas trees on Christmas and goats on Bakr-Eid. Regulate. Don’t ban. Respect traditions.”
Tweet 4: “आज अपने ही देश में, उन्होंने बच्चों के हाथ से फुलझड़ी भी छीन ली। हैपी दिवाली मेरे दोस्त।”
The mention of children as the victim of the ban in these tweets is quite ironic as the story of the ban began with a petition submitted by 3 children aged between 14 months and 6 years, seeking this order to be passed. They wrote: “we are the most vulnerable category when it comes to air pollution, especially from suspended particles and toxins. We are foremost prone to lung diseases, asthama, coughing, bronchitis, retarded development of nervous system and cognitive impairment” and request the ban on the lieu of the fundamental Right to Life.
Another ineluctable aspect of this verdict is the stark economic situation of the fireworks industry as an after effect of this step. According to the stats in Hindustan Times’ report on the matter, the industry is “livelihood of lakhs of workers in Tamil Nadu’s fireworks manufacturing hub of Sivakasi” and it fears “a loss of more than ₹1000 crore“ and that this “tiny Southern Tamil Nadu town” accounted for “85% of all crackers sold in the country”. Asai Thambi, president of Tamil Nadu Fireworks & Amorces Manufacturers Association, expressed his fear about the “loss of jobs and livelihood options for people if firecrackers are banned in other cities too” and stated that this order would “completely smash many (production) units”. Sivakasi Manufacturers Association reportedly stated that this ban can “spoil the Diwali of manufacturers”.
Only time will tell what the future it holds for the ban and what its impacts will be. Let’s hope for the best.