The Supreme Court on Tuesday passed a significant order on the bursting of firecrackers on Deepavali in view of curbing pollution. The apex court limited the time where the activity would be allowed to 8 pm to 10 pm and only ‘green’ firecrackers i.e., those which have reduced emission can be manufactured and sold.
The court also said that only licensed vendors would be allowed to sell these firecrackers, and e-commerce websites would not be allowed to sell firecrackers. It also placed the responsibility of enforcing these orders on local police stations, whose officers will be held liable if disallowed firecrackers were found to be sold in the areas in their jurisdiction.
The move has gotten a mixed response. On one hand, people have appreciated the lifting of complete ban on sale and use of firecrackers. On the other hand, activists and manufacturers have pointed out that these ‘green’ crackers are not yet available in the market, and in the garb of these, the more polluting varieties may find their way into the markets.
What are green crackers?
Traditional firecrackers have in them oxidizers or oxygen-rich substances which extend the time a fireworks burns. Commonly used oxidizers are nitrates, perchlorates, and chlorates; and studies have shown that perchlorates can interfere with normal iodine production in the thyroid gland, causing hormonal imbalance and other related problems. It has also been noted that perchlorates negatively impact embryo growth.
Green crackers are essentially those which do not contain such harmful chemicals and substances and contribute significantly less to air pollution.
According to reports, the idea was proposed in January by Science & Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan. It was a network of labs under the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) which carried out research and production of such firecrackers. They were able to identify a couple of formulations which included materials that could reduce particulate matter by 30-40% as well as decrease in nitrous oxide and Sulphur dioxide, both of which pose hazards to the atmosphere.
CSIR’s Central Electro Chemical Research Institute (CECRI) was able to produce a prototype of flower pots (a popular type of firecracker) which was made using “eco-friendly materials” replacing the more harmful barium nitrate. They were also able to put together a cracker which can potentially emit sound but not Sulphur dioxide.
These crackers are named Safe Water Releaser (SWAS), Safe Thermite Cracker (STAR) and Safe Minimal Aluminium (SAFAL). A scientist with CSIR’s National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) said that this meant that the system of the firecrackers is such that water molecules will be produced, thus suppressing dust in the air.
These formulations have now been sent to Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) which is the authority responsible for framing rules under the Explosives Act 1884 and Inflammable Substances Act 1952. Only after PESO okays these prototypes and formulae can manufacturers take them up.
No green crackers available in the market
By the authorities’ own admission, these green firecrackers are awaiting approval, which means that they may not be available in the market for people to buy and use just yet.
In August, PCA Asaithambi, President of the Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association (TANFAMA) had told TNM, “[Green crackers are] something that [the government] must help us with in terms of the formula to be used. CSIR and NEERI have already come down to our factories to do the groundwork and see how the crackers can be made more environmentally friendly. But this will take time. We will definitely find a remedy but it may take up to two years.”
Apprehensions about eco-friendly firecrackers
Because of this gap in the market, despite the Supreme Court’s verdict, the usual more polluting variety of firecrackers is likely to find their way back to the market, some experts worry.
Further, there is no guarantee that such ‘eco-friendly’ alternatives may actually result in lower pollution levels and health risks. Environmentalist Shweta Narayanan had told TNM, “We don’t have enough information or data to support that using these so-called ‘eco-friendly’ fireworks will have a significant impact on the environment, or even the health risks. We can only say that traditional firecrackers have been found to contain significant amounts of toxic heavy metals in them, including lead, barium and scandium in high concentrations, all of which have been proven to lower IQ and cause cancer.”
Medical experts are also unsure if use of green crackers would help in reducing respiratory issues which peak around the time of Deepavali and after it.
There are also concerns about implementation. A police officer from Delhi told news agency PTI that they do not have necessary equipment to measure decibel levels (the SC order also banned bursting high-sound firecrackers) or the smoke emitting from the firecrackers. Further, since firecrackers are sold in bulk during Diwali, it may prove a challenge to monitor shopkeepers as well.