Context

The Apex court had recently decided to re-impose a ban on the sale of firecrackers in Delhi and NCR till November 1

What are the major reasons behind the ban?

The chemical footprint of crackers

  • Fire crackers have carbon and Sulphur and they produce a range of gases, including a number of chemicals that act as colouring agent, reducing agent, oxidizer, stabilizer and binder.
  • The colors have antimony sulphide for the glitter effect, aluminum for white, barium nitrate for green, lithium for red, copper for blue and strontium for purple.

Greater impact on children

  • The impact of crackers on children is far greater than it is on adults because their ability to metabolize and detoxify environmental agents is different.

What are the potential health hazards from exposure to these chemicals?

  • Aluminum and antimony sulphide (coloring agents) causes Alzheimer’ disease, perchlorate (ammonium and potassium), an oxidizing agent, can cause lung cancer.
  • It causes thyroid complications; the cadmium compounds damage the lungs and leads to gastrointestinal problems.
  • The barium nitrate is poisonous and causes respiratory irritation, radioactive effects, gastrointestinal problems and muscular weakness.
  • The lithium and copper compounds causes hormonal imbalance and is poisonous to plants and animals
  • These gases cause respiratory problems. Hospitals in Delhi report at least 30%-40% increase in wheezing, respiratory disease, bronchial asthma, bronchitis, and worsening of asthma.
  • India Chest Society has issued warning about hearing loss, blood pressure, sleeping disturbances, heart ailments and nausea effects on pets.
  • In 1992, the Centre issued a notification to ban explosives containing a series of dangerous substances like Sulphur or sulphurate mixed with potassium chlorate or chlorate of other elements.

How is air pollution measured in India?

  • Air pollution is measured by many parameters, like CO and PM2.5
  • India has come up with an Air Quality Index (AQI) to give an aggregate sense of the quality of air
  • The formulation of the index was a continuation of the initiatives under Swachh Bharat Mission envisioned by the present Prime Minister of India
  • There are six AQI categories, namely Good, Satisfactory, Moderately polluted, Poor, Very Poor, and Severe. 
  • The proposed AQI will consider eight pollutants (PM10, PM2.5, NO2, SO2, CO, O3, NH3, and Pb) for which short-term (up to 24-hourly averaging period) National Ambient Air Quality Standards are prescribed.

What are the prime sources of air pollution in India?

Agricultural waste burning

  • The burning of agricultural waste in three neighbouring states is responsible for the rise in Air Pollution levels in Delhi.
  • Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh are claiming to have taken several measures to discourage straw and stubble burning, but farmers say they have not received any assistance from their respective governments on an alternate method to clear the fields after the harvest

 Industrial chimney wastes:

  • There are a number of industries which are source of pollution.
  • The chief gases are SO2and NO2.
  • There are many food and fertilizers industries which emit acid vapors in air.

Thermal power stations:

  • There are number of power stations and super thermal power stations in the country.
  • The National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) is setting up four mammoth coal- powered power stations to augment the energy generation.
  • The chief pollutants are fly ash, SO2 and other gases and hydrocarbons.

Automobiles:

  • The Toxic vehicular exhausts are a source of considerable air pollution
  • In all the major cities of the country about 800 to 1000 tonnes of pollutants are being emitted into the air daily, of which 50% come from automobile exhausts.
  • The exhaust produces many air pollutants including un-burnt hydrocarbons, CO, NOx and lead oxides

What are the laws relating to air pollution in India?

  • The Government of India under Article 253 of the Constitution of India enacted the Air Act, 1981 (“Air Act”) for the prevention, control and abatement of air pollution and further to implement the provisions of the Air Act
  • The Air Act consists of fifty four (54) Sections divided into seven (7) chapters.
  • Air pollution, according to the Air Act means the presence of any “air pollutant” in the atmosphere. 
  • The Air Act confers the regulatory power to the Central Pollution Control Board (“CPCB”) and the State Pollution Control Board (“SPCB”) to prevent and control the air pollution.

What are the various roles and functions of CPCB and SPCBs?

Section 18 (1) of the Air Act

  • The CPCB is bound by the direction of the Central Government and SPCB is bound by directions of the CPCB and the State Government
  • The various functions and powers of the CPCB and the SPCB are respectively provided under Section 16 and Section 17 of the Air Act

Functions and Power of CPCB:

  • Advice the Central Government on improvement of air quality and prevention, control or abatement of air pollution and to provide training to persons engaged in such programs
    Prescribe the standards for air quality
  • Execute nation-wide programs for prevention, control or abatement of air pollution and training to persons engaged in such programs
  • Give direction to SPCBs, co-ordinate between SPCBs and provide any technical assistance, guidance and resolve the disputes among SPCBs

Functions and Power of SPCB:

  • Plan comprehensive program for the prevention, control or abatement of air pollution
    Advice the State Government on any matter concerning the prevention, control or abatement of air pollution
  • Prescribe the standards for emission of air pollutants into the atmosphere in consultation with CPCB
  • Collaborate with CPCB in providing training to persons engaged in the prevention, control or abatement of air pollution and also to organize mass education programs.

Power of State Governments

Section 19 (1) of the Air Act

  • The State Governments has the power to declare any area as air pollution control area after consultation with the SPCB

Section 20 of the Air Act

  • The State Government also has the power to instruct the authority in charge of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 to adhere to the standards for emission of air pollutants from automobiles which are stipulated by the SBCB

How effective may the ban prove to be? What are the suggested alternatives?

  • The studies conducted so far on air pollution in Delhi indicate that transport, generator sets, brick kilns, industries, waste burning, thermal power plants and road dust are the biggest culprits.

Production

  • Instead of putting a ban on sale of firecrackers, the government should seek to check their production.
  • The government will also have to crack down on the wholesale suppliers and retail sellers of firecrackers.

Equality

  • The ban on burning of firecrackers may also not yield the desired result because people celebrating Diwali would parity with other festivals which are accused of polluting the atmosphere.

Decontamination

  • Efforts should first be made for sensitizing the people about the ill-effects and futility of burning firecrackers before imposing a ban.
  • The sensitization could be achieved through inclusion of a chapter in school, advertisements and holding of seminars and workshops.
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