Chennai woke up to a fairly quiet Deepavali morning, thanks to people who decided to go green or burst minimal firecrackers on the festival day. This has contributed to a decline in the air and noise pollution index in Chennai. Besant Nagar area recorded an air quality index of 62 PM this year during the Deepavali season as compared to 97 PM last year. The change has improved the air quality from moderately polluted to a satisfactory level.
Though cracker manufacturers attribute the positive sign to green crackers, environmental activists warn that it is too early to make any conclusions and that a study should be conducted to understand the use of green crackers.
According to the data released by Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Bureau, Chennai has recorded a slight decline in the pollution level this year. Nungambakkam recorded 59 PM this year while recording 85 PM last year during this time. The prime shopping destination in the city, T Nagar, recorded 72 PM as compared to 81 PM last year.
Pollution levels up to 100 PM is considered satisfactory, but PM levels of 100-150 are considered moderately polluted, as per the readings of TN Pollution Control Board. In Sowcarpet and Triplicane areas, the air quality index was high, indicating that the air was moderately polluted after Deepavali. The air quality index of Triplicane stood at 107 PM after the festival this year, while it was at 96 PM last year. Sowcarpet recorded 100 PM this year and 119 PM last year.
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board also released the data on noise pollution levels and said that it had reduced by 4-6 decibels this year compared to the previous years on Deepavali.
The cracker manufacturers noted that sales did not reduce this year as compared to previous years. Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers' Association (TANFAMA) president Ganesan said, “The amount of cracker sales did not reduce this year and the sales are expected to go up further due to the festivities lined up in the state. So we cannot say that the cracker usage has reduced, but the pollution went down due to the use of green crackers. We produced over 80% of green crackers this year.”
Ganesan added, however, that the ban on crackers had still affected the industry. “We produced 70% of crackers and sold around 95% of the total produce. From the ban, we have incurred a loss of Rs 600 crores. This will affect the production of next year and the government should help us.”
Environmentalists, who are pushing for a complete ban on crackers, caution that claims around green crackers need to be studied. G Sundarrajan, an environmentalist and founder of Poovulagin Nanbargal (Friends of Nature) said, “Only a study will help us understand whether green crackers helped to reduce pollution levels and improve air quality.”
A reduction in the number of buyers and smaller cracker products may also have resulted in the improved index numbers. “The coronavirus and loss of jobs made many families to do away with the crackers. The production was also low this year. The state government fixed a time restriction and social activists conducted campaigns against air pollution. So these factors could have played a role,” Sundarrajan said.
He observed that pollution levels continue to remain above the recommendation of the World Health Organization. The WHO has said that by reducing the annual fine PM level from 35 to 10, it will reduce deaths by 15%.
Sundarrajan said, “The sustainable practice to reduce air pollution will be to reduce thermal pollution, vehicle pollution and industrial pollution. The bursting of crackers should also be brought under a complete ban. We can also discuss other means of survival for the workers or government by bursting crackers once a year at a common place. But bursting crackers at every household must stop.”