Rajat Sharma

Pollution: Is ban on firecrackers a solution ?

akbEven as shoppers in Delhi are on a big Diwali buying spree, Delhi government has imposed a complete ban on use and sale of all types of firecrackers including those of green variety.

Anybody bursting firecrackers in the national capital till January 1 can be fined Rs 200 and jailed up to six months, while sale, storage and production of firecrackers will attract a fine of Rs 5,000 and imprisonment up to three years under Section 9B of Explosives Act.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court refused an urgent hearing of a petition seeking removal of the ban filed by BJP MP Manoj Tiwari. A bench of Justice M R Shah and M M Sundresh said: “Let the people of Delhi breathe clean air. People should not spend money on firecrackers; instead they should eat sweets”.

On Thursday itself, Delhi High Court refused to entertain a petition challenging Delhi Pollution Control Committee’s complete ban on use and sale of firecrackers. Justice Yashwant Varma dismissed a petition filed by two merchants and said the issue is already engaging the attention of the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, under a 15-point Winter Action Plan, 1,800 teams have been formed in Delhi, out of which 408 teams will implement the ban. 165 teams will be from Revenue Department, 210 teams from Delhi Police and 33 teams from Delhi Pollution Control Committee will enforce the ban.

Delhi government will launch a campaign “Diye Jalao, Patakhe Nahin” from Friday by lighting 51,000 diyas at the Central Park in Connaught Place. Delhi government has urged Union Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav to implement the ban throughout National Capital Region involving the neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

On Thursday, AAP workers themselves flouted the ban by bursting firecrackers when it was announced that Raj Kumar Anand will be appointed minister to replace Rajendra Pal Gautam, who had resigned. Delhi BJP leader Tejinder Pal Singh Bagga posted a video of supporters bursting firecrackers outside Raj Kumar Anand’s residence.

Bagga tweeted: “If Hindus burst firecrackers, it will cause pollution. Arvind Kejriwal will send them to jail, but if firecrackers are burst to celebrate appointment of his minister, it will emanate oxygen. Kejriwal, your anti-Hindu face is now open before the people. You’ve problem with Diwali, not with firecrackers.”

Delhi state BJP chief Aadesh Gupta said, Kejriwal’s government could at least allow people to burst ‘green’ firecrackers on Diwali night, but “Kejriwal hates Hindus and Hindu festivals, that’s why a complete ban on firecrackers has been imposed”.

On Wednesday, Congress workers burst firecrackers after Mallikarjun Kharge was elected party president. Questions are being asked as to how supporters of leaders can be allowed to burst firecrackers while the common man is not allowed to do so. Some have suggested that Delhi government should find out how much air pollution is caused by firecrackers. Diwali is three days away, no firecrackers are being burst in Delhi, and yet the air pollution has already reached “very poor” level.

Till last week, Delhi’s Air Quality Index was 45 (Good). After several years, the air in the capital was cleaner, but on Thursday, the AQI level in Anand Vihar reached 405 (hazardous), while AQI level in R.K.Puram, Rohini, Vivek Vihar and Dwarka was in the vicinity of 250 (Very Unhealthy). In the absence of firecrackers being burst, why has the AQI level shot up so high? The answer lies not in firecrackers, but in the burning of paddy stubble (parali) on a massive scale in Punjab, presently ruled by Aam Aadmi Party.

Bursting of firecrackers on Diwali night is a tradition that is centuries old. Particularly, children and teenagers celebrate Diwali with zest and fervour by bursting firecrackers. Banning firecrackers is easy, but what about burning of paddy stubble? Why is the Punjab government not trying to stop ‘parali’ fires?

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had promised to spray bio-decomposer solution on stubble left after harvesting of paddy, but nothing has been done on the ground level in Punjab. Aam Aadmi Party had promised to distribute Happy Seeder machines to farmers in Punjab to prevent pollution, but most of the farmers have complained that they have neither got the machines nor any help from state government. Since sowing season has started, there was no other option before farmers but to burn paddy stubble.

India TV reporter Punit Parinja went to several districts of Punjab and sent us visuals of smoke emanating from paddy fields in almost all the districts. Small farmers in Punjab said, they cultivate hardly two to four acres of land, and it is already difficult to earn sufficiently to cover all costs, hence they do not have spare money to buy bio-decomposers or seeder machines. They have no other option but to burn paddy stubble.

Several farmers pointed out that ‘parali’ is burnt only for 10 to 15 days in a year, while smoke from vehicles and factories emanate throughout the year. Why doesn’t government put a ban on driving of vehicles in Delhi? Paddy stubble smoke contributes hardly 5 per cent to air pollution, while 95 per cent smoke is contributed by factories and vehicles.

AAP government in Punjab appears to completely hopeless in stopping ‘parali’ burning. Punjab Agriculture Minister Kuldip Dhaliwal met the Jathedar of Akal Takht and requested him to issue an appeal to all farmers not to burn paddy stubble this year, but the appeal had no effect.

Most of the cases (more than 600) of burning of paddy stubble have been reported from Amritsar district, from where the Agriculture Minister hails. 391 cases of stubble burning were reported from Taran Taran district. The state government failed to provide Happy Seeder machines to farmers. The state agriculture minister said, there was a Rs 150 crore scam in purchase of happy seeder machines by the previous government, and the present government is therefore not in a hurry to purchase those machines.

It is a strange paradox that Arvind Kejriwal as Delhi CM was blaming burning of paddy stubble as the main cause of pollution in NCR last year. He was blaming the then Congress government in Punjab. But now he has his own party’s government in Punjab, and naturally, it is the Congress that is asking questions now.

Congress MP Ravneet Bittu alleged that Kejriwal was given a chance to govern by the people of Punjab, but he is presently busy in his Gujarat poll campaign. Punjab BJP leader Rajkumar Verka said, the people had given AAP a chance to work, but its ministers, instead of doing work, are waiting for Akal Takht to do their job. This is not going to help farmers, he said.

Paddy stubble were being burnt earlier in Haryana and western UP too, but this time there are fewer such cases. It is claimed that there has been 54 per cent decline in stubble burning in these states. This year, till now there has been 1,238 cases of ‘parali’ burning in Punjab, while in Haryana there were 186 such cases, and only 91 cases in western UP. Environmentalists say, state governments must coordinate among themselves and face this challenge unitedly, otherwise the air pollution situation could deteriorate.

I think there is not one single cause behind air pollution in NCR. There are several causes. It is true that smoke from burning of paddy stubble poisons the air, and burning of ‘parali’ must be stopped, but to throw farmers into jails, or slap fines on them for burning ‘parali’ is not the right solution. It is the government’s responsibility to help the farmers and provide them with options, like giving them compensation or purchasing paddy stubble from farmers for use in other sectors. No matter how many farmers are thrown into jails or cases slapped against them, burning of paddy stubble will not cease.

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