Green-crackers are firecrackers that emit a lower amount of emissions and are promoted by the government to be safe.
Image by Sanket Wankhade/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
AI used to measure decibel levels at t Marine Drive in Mumbai many years ago. A father laughed when he gave his almost eight-year-old son an explosion cracker bomb. The child bent down. I watched his mother hug him as the cracker exploded faster than he expected. I was puzzled, not for the second time, as to why crackers are given to children.
I was puzzled as to why crackers are lit. But, I knew what I knew: Crackers with names such as Atom Bomb, Thunder Bomb, and Saddam Bomb are powerful symbols. We choose firecrackers as the emission we prefer.
The smell of firecrackers contributes to the stale air in Indian cities, which are among the most polluted and noisy in the world. Influential people encourage cracker use and are often ignored by enforcement authorities and policy measures.
Green-crackers are firecrackers that emit a lower amount of emissions and are considered safe by the government. They are allowed in certain states for 35 minutes, between 11.55 pm and 12.30 am to celebrate the new year 2022.
In October 2021, Supreme Court (SC), expressed its displeasure at the government’s years-long disregard for its orders. If it is determined that any banned fireworks were manufactured, sold or used, then the chief secretary, home Secretary, commissioner of police, and district superintendentof police will be held personally responsible.
Harish Baijal was the first to set a precedent by setting a precedent for enforcement of the SC order in rare instances. He found that many green-crackers he had seized were fake. He confiscated and destroyed crackers worth Rs 300,00,000. They did not have a certificate from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (Neeri), which was the government agency that had developed them.
The first firecracker was a continuously heated bamboo which exploded in China in 200 BC. Gunpowder, however, is louder that heated bamboo. Alchemist Wei Boyang described gunpowder in the Han Dynasty around 142 AD as a combination of three powders that could fly and dance. Although firecrackers are still known as baozhu, or the exploding Bamboo, after his discovery, gunpowder-based explosives were invented.
Explosives were brought to India by the Mongol invasions of the 13th Century. Invasion explosives were originally used as war weapons. A Mongol ruler Hulegu Khan sent an envoy in 1258 to India. He was met by thunder and the light of a brilliant firecracker display in Delhi. Gradually, firecrackers spread throughout the country and became symbols for victory, celebrating its celebration. The triumph of good over evil, light over dark.
Firecrackers became more accessible to the common man, and they were used to celebrate victories in cricket matches, political elections, and the symbolic beginnings or new years, birthdays, and weddings. They are synonymous with Diwali, the festival surrounded by lights.
In Kerala, where fiercely competitive firecracker faces-offs take place, unbranded firecrackers are used called amittuAn explosion in 2016 caused the destruction of a temple, killing over 100 people. L Xavier, vice-president, Forum for Prevention of Environmental and Sound Pollution and petitioner to landmark SC judgment covering various aspects of noise pollution, laments that chemicals are poured in a cast iron heavy cylinder and exploded. He says that crackers like this are still being used today. Nothing has changed.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi encouraged citizens to celebrate Diwali by lighting diyas and lighting lights during the Covid-19 lockdown, some firecrackers from Rajkot, Gujarat were called Modi bomb or Rafale skyshots during the Covid-19 lockdown of 2020. In Zaidapur, Uttar Pradesh, children making crackers without safety measures or licenses were caught on video despite previous explosions that had killed people.
The SC banned dangerous and harmful crackers. The government encouraged Neeri’s green-crackers. Green-crackers are also low-intensity bombs that have a lower potential to cause serious injury and are therefore marketed as being environmentally friendly.
A few varieties were authorized by the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation. Neeri, Peso, and the Central Pollution Control Board are responsible for ensuring manufacturing conforms to approved specifications. They also distribute police licenses.
Awaaz Foundation also checked for compliance with the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board. The mandatory authenticity stamp of Neeri must be attached to all green-crackers. The QR code is used to identify composition including heavy metals and noise levels as well as date and manufacture. It identifies green-crackers to be genuine. However, QR codes were not present on many boxes. Awaaz Foundation used a downloadable app that was also created by Neeri to check QR codes on boxes that did not have them before Diwali. All 20 varieties tested had the message Invalid QR.
Our findings were presented before the court by senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan who represented his minor son Arjun Gopal at the SC. The SC order dated October 29 states: It is reported, that even under the guise green crackers banned chemicals firecrackers were being sold. There is also a mislabelling of the boxes and even the QR codes on the boxes of green crackers’ are alleged as fake.
Awaaz Foundation also tested their chemical composition at a lab. It found that green-crackers were high in banned chemicals and heavy metallics. These additives produce unique and distinctive light displays. They also create more brilliance, more smoke, and more dazzling colours. Barium, which can be poisonous, creates green colours and stabilizes other volatile elements. Antimony creates glitter effects. A 2017 SC order prohibited firecrackers made by respondents to contain antimony or lithium, mercury and arsenic in any form.
Children are safe to handle green-crackers like chakris, sparklers, anar and sparklers. They contained all of the banned substances as well as barium, another prohibited substance. They also contained toxic chemicals like potassium, lead and sulphur. Our findings were confirmed in a prima-facie report by the CBI, filed with court records.
Many of these metals are included in the Hazardous Chemicals Rules under the Environment Protection Act. These rules limit contact during transport, storage, and handling.
Dr Hasnain Paltel, president of International Board of Clinical Medical Toxicology states that heavy metals are particularly dangerous for children. Heavy metal poisoning can lead to serious diseases like cancer, diabetes, and nervous system disorders.
Not only are they dangerous, but metals may also combine with the sulphur, oxygen, and other substances that firecrackers contain, when they’re ignited. The chemical reaction could lead to highly toxic metal and sulfur oxides as well as sulphides.
Dr Rakesh, the former director of Neeri, acknowledged that metal oxides can be toxic and other by-products from partial combustion. However, he said that we don’t know the exact composition as it depends on the raw material used and the conditions of the burning. Unfortunately, such detailed tests for by-products have not yet been conducted.
According to the United States Environment Protection Agency, even short-term exposures to sulphur dioxides can cause respiratory problems and make breathing difficult. Children and people with asthma are especially sensitive to sulphur oxides.
Even though tests are not available, people can sense the immediate effects of particulate material that they inhale after crackers are lit. My throat and chest get clogged up every winter and it lingers until spring. I know that I am not the only one suffering from seasonal coughs.
Air pollution is listed by the United Nations ahead of Covid-19 as a world’s greatest health emergency. Lancet’s report estimated that air pollution was responsible for the deaths of 1.7 Million Indians and that Rs 2,60,000 crore of economic losses in India.
The firecracker’s deafening roar is the reason that it thrills. The Environment Protection Act also notifies the Noise Pollution Rules.
A green-cracker, lit by Awaaz Foundation, and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, was tested for 127.6 decibels, just a few days before Diwali. It crossed the threshold for pain. As I took an involuntary backward step, I saw others turning away, their hands covering their ears. The sound was heard from a nearby building. The birds flew upwards.
Xavier claims that his day often begins with a huge explosion of firecrackers at 5 AM. This can cause palpitations in churches celebrating a feast between November 28 and December 15. Repeated complaints have not resulted in any change.
India has the highest number of people with severe hearing loss in the world. Harsh Vardhan, Union Health Secretary, warned India that it faces a mountain of hearing impairment when he addressed the World Hearing Day 2021 event organized by the World Health Organisation.
SC’s October 29 order states: No one can be allowed to ignore or disobey the directions of this Court/Courts. Any act of wilful or deliberate disobedience must be taken very seriously.
The SC was informed by the government that a mechanism is in place to monitor and prevent the sale of banned crackers or fake crackers on November 2, just days before Diwali. The AQI for Mumbai and Delhi in particular was 305 and 335 respectively on that day, making them both very poor cities. Despite evidence to support the contrary, the SC accepted that the state had explained that the government is in compliance with all court orders.
Modi, a member of CoP26, committed in Glasgow, Scotland that India would achieve net-zero emission in 50 years, or 2070. Modi didn’t commit to reducing emissions, despite being actively pressurized by the government to allow polluting crackers by the SC.
President Ram Nath Kovind tweeted on November 3rd, the eve Diwali. Sadhguru, a spiritual leader with millions of followers, tweeted: Let us celebrate Diwali together in a clean and safe manner.
Green-crackers were blown during Diwali, and in some cases throughout the night, in complete disregard for climate, health, and environmental imperatives. Firecrackers were also lit outside a celebrity house to celebrate the release from jail of an actor’s son.
Immediately after Diwali, AQI in parts of Mumbai shot up to 438 /mg3 and in parts of Delhi to 999/mg3 or the maximum readings possible in the calibration of the meter; in the severe category and beyond. To protect the public’s health, Delhi schools and all other activities were shut down for a few days.
Sankaranarayanan wrote a letter to the SC, in which he stated that he would not bore him with stories of political apathy or corporate lobbies.
We can choose from green-crackers and firecrackers for our greenhouse-gas emissions. They contribute to climate change and acid rain. They can cause disease and even death in our own country. They are more harmful than other emissions and no amount of development can stop them.
The United Nations stated that improving air quality could increase climate change mitigation. It also stated that climate change mitigation efforts can improve quality of air.
Awaaz Foundation sent Neeri an email asking for a quote for testing at Rs 7,000 per sample. This was an expensive exercise for an NGO.
Police Commissioner Baijal was told that Neeris instrument for checking green-crackers was not working. He was asked to send Rs 250 per sample to a privately owned lab. I chose 50 brands, and sent Rs 12,500. The amount has not been received by Neeri because they have not communicated with me.
Firecrackers, those dazzling symbols of victory, victory, and power, are still popular despite the lack of will to enforce laws from the government, religious, or society leaders. Their ability to shock, amaze, and excite outweigh any serious health risks, adverse impacts on climate change, contraventions to our laws, or international commitments to netzero.
SC orders allow green-crackers on New Year’s Eve. The SC orders on New Year allow green-crackers. State governments need to clarify this. I look out my window to see if there will be a sudden deafening sound at midnight to mark the beginning of January 2022 in Mumbai. Green-crackers may not be allowed to go to bed at night due the rapid-growing Omicron variant Covid-19.
In India, however a spectacular shower of green, red, and gold will rise high above noise as firecrackers disguised themselves as green-crackers signal the start of 2022. Crackers will briefly brighten the sky as I hug my children and wish them happy new years. Older people will be jerked up. Infants will cry. The streets will be lined with ashes, paper, plastic, and other remnants of paper in the morning.
We look ahead and we see that Indian cities are among the most polluted around the world. We look backwards, and we see why.
Convenor, Awaaz Foundation
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