In a country where nearly 80 per cent of the people are Hindu and the preponderant majority is deeply religious this seems like an amazing outcome.
What the Supreme Court has effectively done is to ban firecrackers on Diwali. Forget for a moment the fact that firecrackers can only be let off within a specified narrow time band or only in specific designated areas. Those are actually matters of detail. In concentrating on them the media has inadvertently missed the key point. The core of the SC order is that only green firecrackers can be manufactured and sold. We need to keep them at the top of our mind because it’s the conclusion that flows from this requirement that needs to be highlighted.
The blunt truth, as confirmed by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s National Environmental Engineering Research Institute is that, at the moment, such crackers are not made in India. NEERI scientist Sadhana Rayalu has openly admitted this fact to my colleague Arvind Kumar. They spoke on the phone on Tuesday and she was unabashed about it. So unless there’s some change between now and Diwali (November 7) firecrackers will not be sold or used anywhere in India unless, of course, the SC order is to be disobeyed.
What then is the possibility of change? NEERI director Rakesh Kumar has told an English daily that formulations for green firecrackers have been sent to the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation and are awaiting its approval. “We can even handhold the manufacturers so that they can quickly scale it up to meet demand,” he added. But can all of this be done in just 13 days? Even if PESO grants approval expeditiously, won’t manufacture take a lot longer? And then the new crackers have to reach the stores in time to be bought for use on November 7. I have to admit it’s very unlikely.
There is, however, one other way green crackers could be made available in time for Diwali. They could be imported in the required massive quantities. I assume the government has identified countries where such crackers are readily available and can arrange for their expeditious purchase and shipment to India.
Now, even if enough are not available or their import cannot be afforded to enable every Indian who wants to use crackers to do so, perhaps sufficient quantities can be obtained for two or three sizeable government-organised public firecracker displays in cities and towns. That would require huge organisation but it’s feasible. This is akin to an emergency after all.
Which leaves the villages of India where possibly the majority of the country lives. Will anyone organise public firecracker displays for them? Or are they to be forgotten? Indeed do we have time for this task? I fear the answer is probably not.
My conclusion is simple — unless green crackers are imported I don’t think we will have any in India that can be used this Diwali. We’ll simply have to go without.
Penultimately, all of this raises the question — did the SC ask whether green crackers are made in India before it passed an order permitting only their use? I suspect not, for the simple reason that if it had, it would have realised that by only permitting green crackers and none other, it was effectively altogether banning the use of firecrackers this Diwali. Did it really mean to do that?
And so, finally, we end with the thought — do the SC’s judges realise what they’ve done and did they mean to do it or has it all happened because a simple but critical question wasn’t asked? This is a tough question. We can only guess at the answer. But isn’t there one that seems more correct than the rest?
In a country where nearly 80 per cent of the people are Hindu and the preponderant majority is deeply religious this seems like an amazing outcome. It would be one thing to knowingly ban firecrackers but it’s quite another to do so unintendedly, even unrealisingly. This is why the SC needs to urgently clarify matters.