'Green Crackers' must be made popular
The APCB (Assam Pollution Control Board) allowing bursting of only green crackers with a two-hour window period during Deepawali, Chhath puja
The APCB (Assam Pollution Control Board) allowing bursting of only green crackers with a two-hour window period during Deepawali, Chhath puja, Christmas and New Year eve and prohibiting all other types of crackers is critical to keep air pollution in check across the State. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma's taking to the Tweeter a day after that the APCB clamped the ban suo moto without any consultation with the State Government has added to the confusion. The Chief Minister assuring that "the entire issue is being reviewed afresh, holistically, keeping people's sentiments in mind" has kept alive the possibility of the 'window-period extension". The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) has defined green crackers as "improved fireworks/firecrackers" made with the reduction in shell size, elimination of ash usage, reduced usage of raw materials — which reduces the emission of particulate matter (PM) by a minimum range from 30 % to 20% reduction in PM and the rest 10% in gaseous emission when compared with the conventional composition for a given category of crackers/fireworks. The APCB prohibition is a compliance of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order, imposing a total ban on crackers during COVID-19 pandemic in all cities and towns where the air quality falls under the "poor and above category"; and allowing the sale and use of only green crackers in cities and towns with "moderate" air quality. The Supreme Court also refused to interfere with the NGT order and directed all district magistrates to ensure that prohibited firecrackers are not sold and compensation is recovered from violators. Air Quality Index of Guwahati, according to Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on Monday was found to be in the "moderate" category (AQI value between 101-200) which led to APCB allowing sale and use of green crackers for two hours in the capital city on the festival days. Improving air quality has gained more prominence following outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. While air quality of moderate category causes breathing or health related discomfort among elderly, children, pregnant women, people with asthma or other lung and respiratory diseases and heart diseases, prolonged exposure to "poor" category air can cause breathing discomfort in healthy people too. The Indian-firecracker industry produces an estimated Rs 3,000 crore worth of firecrackers, but production declined to Rs 1,500 crore last year due to the ban. Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu accounts for around 90% of the production and over 1000 manufacturers employ about three lakh workers and provide indirect employment to about five lakh people. Ensuring the SC ban on the use of toxic chemicals in the manufacturing of firecrackers has remained a cause of worry; and, this leaves room for speculation if the firecrackers manufactured in Sivakasi are actually green. The SC also observed that during an investigation, the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) found that six manufactures of Tamil Nadu used barium and barium salts in violation of the apex Court's order.
Smuggling and sale of unsafe, cheap, polluting, and harmful Chinese crackers into India has become a headache for the Customs authorities. According to an estimate by the Indian firecracker industry, such illegal and unsafe Chinese crackers account for about 40% of total firecrackers sold in India. If the authorities fail to prevent illegal import of Chinese firecrackers which found way to markets in different cities and towns then enforcement of green crackers cannot be expected to produce the desired objective of reducing air pollution. The Chinese firecrackers are not subjected to any laboratory tests to ascertain the chemicals used and also the percentage of PM emission because of illegal import. It has further raised the awareness level of people about the importance of green crackers; and the harmful effects of unsafe Chinese crackers have received the least priority. As a result, they fall for cheaper firecrackers. For over 130 years, Assam's firecracker manufacturing hub in Barpeta has been traditionally producing green crackers which emit less pollution and makes low decibel sound to make it a real celebration of the festival of lights (Deepavali) in the true sense of the term and not reduce the festival to a celebration of polluting high decibel sound and choking gases. For the traditional firecrackers industry of the State to capture a bigger market taking advantage of the NGT ban and the SC directives, laboratory certification and labelling that the firecrackers manufactured in Barpeta are "Green" as defined by the CSIR-NEERI is important. Financial and other support by the State Government can not only help to expand the current market size of this indigenous industry from around Rs one crore within Assam but also capture the markets outside the Northeast region and generate gainful employment. The Assam Police have demonstrated their capability in cracking down against the illicit drugs and seized massive quantities of these banned narcotic items. It is hoped that the Assam Police in collaboration with the district administrations will ensure that only green crackers are sold and used to make this festival season safe and less polluting across the State.