Monday, October 9, 2017

Rant: Ban-gs & Firecrackers

Let's begin with some elementary history. The word Diwali, or Deepavali literally means ' a row of diyas or lamps'. Diwali is, first and foremost, a festival in which we light up our house with lamps to welcome Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, and pray to Her to bless us & our family. It is also celebrated to welcome Lord Rama's return to Ayodhya from his exile with his consort Seeta and younger brother Lakshmana. 

The earliest known firecrackers to man were invented somewhere around 700 CE during the rule of the Tang dynasty in China. This makes the usage of firecrackers more of an erstwhile ‘fun’ addition to Diwali rather than an age old tradition

Reverting to the present. The Supreme Court took an exceptionally bold decision to ban the sale of fireworks in the Delhi – NCR region beginning from today (9th October) to the 1st of November. While this is one of their best bans, they could have made it all the more effective by banning firecracker sales all over the country or even better, by banning fireworks altogether. But banning fireworks altogether isn’t an easy prospect, especially since this particular ban itself sees the firecracker industry in Sivakasi staring at a probable loss of Rs 1000 crore (Economic Times, 9th October 2017), not to mention a financial loss to the vendors in Delhi NCR who stocked up their shops with fireworks.

Nevertheless this ban was essential, especially in Delhi, for we seem to pay no heed to the constant refrains of a ‘cracker-free Diwali’

Time now for some numbers. The Air Quality Index (AQI) of New Delhi is 352 & that of Ghaziabad (a part of NCR is 333 (according to NDTV at 4:35 pm). Around the world, a "good” AQI lies between 0-50, while anything above 300 is termed “hazardous”. Healthy people living in a place with an AQI greater than 300 may experience respiratory problems whereas people suffering with lung/heart diseases may have serious health issues. More seriously, hazardous levels of AQI will have a harsh impact on our future generations. While I agree that one day of not bursting crackers would not decrease the AQI, it might result in a slightly less polluted Diwali, and possibly a more enjoyable one for the city. After all, when we are asked to switch off lights for an hour on Earth Day we blindly do that, so why not stop firecrackers for Diwali?

Now, time for getting our priorities right. This ban has also been termed as a case of ‘judicial overreach’ with ‘ dangerous precedents’ by enthusiastic , educated Tweeple. ‘Judicial overreach’ is an expression used by our former PM Manmohan Singh, means an excessive judicial interference with laws and executive action .(Hindustan Times, August 10, 2016). One classic example of a case of judicial overreach was the ruling that the national anthem must be played in all cinema halls  before the screening of a film, which also caused an uproar online.(Personally the only problem I have faced while standing for the national anthem before a film is precariously balancing the square-bottomed popcorn tub on the much smaller, circular cup-holder. It has neither affected my movie watching experience, nor my patriotism, although it might have resulted in a bit of a popcorn storm around my seat. Talk about round hole, square peg.But I digress)

But, the basic question is – does judicial overreach more important to us than the environment? True, this might very well be a case of judicial overreach, but is it such a life-altering decision? To that matter, I have often observed that cases which fall under ‘judicial overreach’ are often those which have stemmed from basic, all pervading rules – no drinking and driving, no crackers for Diwali etc – which people refuse to comply with.

With these points in mind, I would ask some influential, educated Tweeples who are going gaga on Twitter over this ban to politely explain how the cracker ban in Delhi is in fact, a religious issue and not an environmental issue. What do goats and Christmas trees have to do with firecrackers? So what if this is a matter of judicial overreach?  Are man-made ‘traditions’ so important to us that we readily sacrifice the God-gifted environment for them? And also, is it right for us to risk the well-being of our future generations for a few crackers? Time for some serious thinking, dear Tweeple, and also, maybe a little more education?



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