Three toddlers, aged between 14 months and three years, prompted the Supreme Court into imposing a blanket ban on the sale and stocking of firecrackers and licences as well, in the national capital and its surrounding areas earlier this week. Arjun Goyal, Aarav Bhandari and Zoya Rao Bhasin had sought to move the apex court, through their parents, to protect their fundamental right to a clean and healthy environment, read a smog-free Delhi. The court’s directive came at a time when pollution by firecrackers has been a major discussion point across the country, with the impact of such celebrations being assessed by pollution control boards in different cities during Diwali. The visuals of the Delhi smog, as it choked the capital, triggered a sense of suffocation across the country. And while the Supreme Court order does not ban celebratory fireworks by private persons, it certainly has set the tone for further action on not just firecrackers, but other polluting factors too, including industries. While there are demands for similar bans across the country, in Telangana, the beginnings to apply the choking effect back on pollutants were made much before the haze hit Delhi. The government has amended the manner in which permissions were given to firecracker dealers, making it mandatory for them to get licences from the Fire Services Department. That too, only if they were found to be adhering to prescribed regulations. The result was that the number of firecracker shops plummeted this year. Step by step, with the apex court’s ruling in hand, if this approach continues, a difference can surely be made. At the same time, with the court asking the Central Pollution Control Board to study the effects of harmful material used in firecrackers, this could be the right time to have a look at the very idea of firecrackers and fireworks. The Kollam temple tragedy in Kerala last year – in which over 100 people died and more than 400 were injured after a firework competition went horribly wrong — is a warning and question on the custom of fireworks, adding the angle of human safety to that of pollution.
There is a world trend to get away from fireworks, with countries where pollution has been of concern taking steps to move away from fireworks and firecrackers. Hong Kong’s laser attraction — the Symphony of Lights — has been one of the successful alternatives, while discussions on how Sydney’s immensely popular New Year fireworks display could be altered are going on. The concept is to replace today’s polluting, potentially dangerous fireworks with something that is non-polluting, safe, and which is as dramatic and entertaining. The Telangana government has already decided to relocate industries away from the city and beyond the Outer Ring Road. The Metro Rail is expected to help decongest the city. The beginnings have been made, and the proverbial stitch in time is awaited.