Infants plead for ‘green’ Diwali

S Madhusudhana Rao

Three infants have made judicial history in the country by moving the Supreme Court for a ban on crackers during festivals, particularly during Dusserah and Diwali. A petition filed by Arjun Gopal and Aarav Bhandari, both six-months old, and 14-month-0ld Zoya Rao Bhasin has sought the apex court’s intervention to end sound and air pollution during the two important festivals in Hindu calendar. The plea was made on Tuesday by their advocate-fathers on behalf of the tiny tots.

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S Madhusudhana Rao

The petition said, in part, “Our lungs have not yet fully developed and we cannot take further pollution through bursting of crackers.” What the ` or their environment-conscious fathers have done is more than what environmentalists could not do for decades. That is, bid to stir the conscience of revelers through legal means that the health of the future generations is at stake if merry-makers continue to blast away festival nights for pomp and gaiety.

Some years ago, curbs were sought on crackers’ noise levels as a result of which manufacture of high-decibel ‘bombs’ had been restricted. Still, clandestinely-made ear-splitting fireworks find their way into the market during Diwali time. What’s disconcerting is, it is not just festivals that will see an explosion of exuberance in light and sound but any occasion that is deemed fit to celebrate will witness crackers worth lakhs of rupees going up in smoke.

For example, big fat weddings and political victories are marked by sound and light show of crackers on the ground and in the sky. Law or no-law, none will dare to dampen the spirit of organizers who are least concerned about other people and the environment pollution they are creating. In other words, children and the aged are silent sufferers of daytime and midnight revelry, depending on the occasion.

The infants, in their petition, have raised several relevant issues and sought remedial measures, besides the cracker ban. Among the steps called for are: Implementation of Bharat V emission norms to control vehicular pollution; their right to clean air guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution; ban on burning the residue after crop harvests; dumping of construction waste in public places, etc. If the apex court widens the scope of the petition, it covers land, water and air which are polluted with gay abandon by people from every walk of life.

Not that they don’t know what they are doing to their surroundings, to the water they drink; the air they breathe and the land they use for various purposes, including cultivation of crops. Poisoning the three essentials that sustain every life form on the earth slowly and systematically is not only criminal but suicidal.

For years, environmentalists, global conferences and UN agencies have been urging the people and pleading with governments to bring down pollution levels of every kind. But, little has been done at people’s level. On the other hand, the pollution curve has been steadily going up, particularly in urban areas. Despite repeated reminders by global environment watchdogs that the Indian capital is one of the most polluted cities in the world (though it occupies the top spot, its rank is being questioned as some other cities like Beijing are said to be worse), air pollution continues to choke Delhi.

India’s pollution problems are peculiar. If we leave industrial pollution to the government to tackle, nothing much could be done about people contaminating the environment because most of them don’t believe in collective responsibility. They go to any length to keep their homes spick and span but don’t hesitate to throw the dust –and garbage – onto the public road. In contrast, Westerners go to extreme lengths to keep public property, including roads, parks and other utilities, clean and tidy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat initiative is supposed to erase the dirty image of India. Even additional levies have been proposed to improve the country’s image. But as long as people continue to dirty the areas they are living in even after paying tax, how much the government could do?

The issue here is not just brightening the image of a street or an area but polluting it, disregarding its consequences and effects on human health. The just concluded mega immersion ceremonies of Ganesh in various lakes in Hyderabad and Secunderabad are one example. The amount of toxic waste thousands of idols has added to water bodies can’t be easily removed. Nor could it be treated without adding more chemicals to water.

Similarly, Diwali and Dusserah. While the Festival of Lights was originally intended to light cotton wicks dipped in oil-filled earthen lamps to dispel ignorance and lead us towards enlightenment, the festival has degenerated into a grand show of one’s money power with fireworks and firecrackers. The nine-night Navaratri celebrations that mark the triumph of good over evil need not end in a spectacle that is detrimental to the environment.

If these are the concerns of environment-conscious people, the health issues raised by the three infants are the direct outcome of the problems generated by the indifferent public as well as vested interests. Since most of the celebrations are intrinsic to Hindu festivals, any curbs on them, however imperative they are, will invite public wrath. More importantly, over the years, the festivities have become a part of socio-cultural milieu.

Legal view on such issues is welcome and essential to enforce laws. But more important is people should give a thought to the issues raised by the infants in their petition. How best we can contribute to make the country a livable place for the sake of future generations. We can always celebrate festivals without polluting the environs. What is needed is a little forethought and concern for fellow citizens and respect for the Mother Earth.

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