National Green Tribunal restricts use of firecrackers for all festivals this year

While directing a ban on firecrackers for the National Capital Region (NCR), the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed cities and towns in India with ‘moderate’ air quality (or below) to only allow the sale of green crackers and restricted timings to burst them during festivals.

The NGT published its November 5 order on Monday that specified that average air quality for each city was to be calculated for November 2019 and then declared whether it was ‘poor’ or ‘moderate’ or otherwise. For NCR and those cities with ‘poor’ (or worse) air quality, the NGT directed a total ban against the sale and use of firecrackers from November 9-10, 2020 to the midnight of November 30-December 1, which would be reviewed thereafter.

Mumbai had recorded ‘moderate’ air quality during November 2019, according to SC Kollur, chief scientist, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB). “As per the NGT guideline, sale of green crackers can be allowed in Mumbai. We have already calculated individual city data based on air quality classification for other cities in Maharashtra, and prepared a draft to be circulated to state and urban local bodies for them to issue enforcement guidelines. The draft will be finalised soon,” said Kollur.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) categorises AQI levels in the 0-50 range as good; 51-100 as satisfactory; 101-200 as moderate; 201-300 as poor; 301-400 as very poor. Green crackers have 30% lower emissions of toxic gases than traditional ones and they do not contain barium nitrate, a metal oxide that increases both air and noise pollution.

“There is enough material indicating nexus between pollution and Covid and that increased pollution will increase Covid impact by reducing immunity rendering citizens susceptible to more diseases which may affect lungs, heart and cause cancer,” the bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel said.

To address the aggravated effect of air pollution during Covid-19, NGT said for cities and towns with ‘moderate’ air quality apart from green crackers, the timings for use and cracker bursting be restricted to two hours during festivals, as may be specified by the state concerned. “If nothing is specified by the state, timing will be 8pm to 10pm on Diwali and Gurupurab, 6am to 8am on Chatt and 11.55 pm to 12.30 am during Christmas and New Year’s Eve. All states may initiate special drives to contain air pollution from all sources in view of potential of aggravation of Covid-19,” read the order.

The chief secretaries and director general of police were directed to issue orders with enforcement guidelines, while pollution control boards were asked to monitor air quality status during this period. “The NGT order will be shared with all state departments,” said Sudhir Srivastava, chairman, MPCB.

NGT was hearing numerous applications from Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and the tribunal on its own motion, and took cognisance of several states that had already banned the use of firecrackers this Diwali. “Even green crackers only partly reduce pollution. With Covid-19, even reduced pollution becomes hazardous. What may be permitted in normal times, can also not be permitted during Covid-19. That is the reason for the ban by the states which was never considered without Covid,” the bench said.

Scientists said state-specific guidelines were needed towards implementation of entrusted work. “It is good that the NGT is monitoring both issues (air pollution and Covid-19) for protection of human health across India. Citizens must understand the gravity of this order, and need to participate in the programme for protection of their neighbour’s health. Our utmost duty should be to maintain the better air quality during bad air days, and for that citizens need to function as a unit,” said Dipankar Saha, former additional director, CPCB.

“As far as the NGT order is concerned, although Mumbai’s air is not as polluted as in some other parts of India at present, air quality has consistently been shown to deteriorate immediately after Diwali. Thus there was a need to ban crackers overall for major cities like Mumbai too,” said Sumaira Abdulali, convener, Awaaz Foundation.

What does this NGT order mean for Mumbai?

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed cities and towns in India, such as Mumbai that had ‘moderate’ air quality (or below) in 2019, to only allow the sale of green crackers and restricted timings for the use of such crackers during major festivals like Diwali, Gurpurab, Chatt, Christmas and New Year’s eve. While the Maharashtra government through urban local bodies among other states were asked to draft their own time frame for cracker bursting and guidelines, in case if nothing was specified by the state, the timing to burst crackers will be 8 to 10pm on Diwali and Gurupurab, 6am to 8am on Chatt and 11.55pm to 12.30am during Christmas and New year eve. For Diwali however, BMC has already banned bursting of firecrackers in public and private places in Mumbai except on Saturday, November 14 (Diwali Day), when only two variants of firecrackers (sparklers and flower pots) can be used.

What are Green crackers?

Green crackers have 30% lower emissions of toxic gases than traditional ones and they do not contain barium nitrate, a metal oxide that increases both air and noise pollution. On October 5, 2019, the Centre announced the use of these eco-friendly crackers across India, developed by the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), based on a 2018 Supreme Court (SC) order, banning the manufacture of polluting firecrackers. NEERI developed different variants of two types of crackers – flower pots and sparklers – with new formulations for their chemical components. These crackers were made with reduction in size of shell, elimination of ash usage, and reduced usage of raw materials in their composition, of uniform acceptable quality, use of additives as dust suppressants with specific reference to particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

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