Diwali, also known as festival of lights, is just around the corner. The celebrations have already begun. Houses have been lit up with the fanciest of lights, the roads are clogged, boxes containing sweets can be seen changing hands and there is a constant sound, noise to be more precise, of someone lighting a firecracker somewhere in the colony.
If a festival is all about sharing happiness then we should think twice, as Diwali is not the same for everyone.
When it comes to indulging in Diwali revelries through bursting fire crackers, it is high time to ask ourselves whether we are actually sharing something good with others or only contributing in making things difficult for them, more so at a time when the pollution levels in several cities including Delhi, have touched new heights.
TYNews tries to figure that out through a candid chat with an environmentalist, a doctor, a senior police official and Delhi’s fire department chief.
“This festival is very difficult for people who have respiratory problems,” said Vikrant Tongad, a Delhi-NCR based environmentalist. “My father has asthma and during the festival, his problem tends to manifold. We have to take all the necessary precautions like keeping our windows closed to keep him safe.”
The case of Vikrant’s father is not an isolated one.
There has been a steep rise in cases of throat itchiness, breathlessness, cough and cold and migraines among people living in cities where firecrackers are an indispensable part of the Diwali revelries.
According to a survey measuring post-Diwali morbidity at a resettlement colony in Delhi in 2015, 87.7 percent people had respiratory complains ranging from mild cough and wheeze to asthmatic attack, 4.4 percent of people complained of difficulty in hearing, another 4.4 percent had irritation and itching in eyes, and 0.8 percent reported to have severe headache due to noise of crackers.
“During the festival, people tend to ignore their health. However, after the festivities are over, there is tremendous increase in number of patients,” said Dr S K Chhabra, head of Pulmonology department in Delhi’s Primus Super Speciality Hospital. “Patients with asthma and bronchitis are the most frequent visitors.”
“The frequencies of various infections amongst people also increase due to the toxic pollutants in the air during and after Diwali. And with winter almost there, the problem tends to persist,” he said.
At the worst end of the problem are the people who have to spend long hours on the streets for livelihood – rickshaw pullers, auto-drivers, street vendors, traffic men, construction workers and sweepers and sanitation workers who work at the most polluted hours of the day. What choice do they have?
Individual efforts can bring change. “We all can take simple measures to prevent ourselves and our loved ones from health hazards caused by massive pollution during Diwali,” Chhabra said. “Simple measures like not bursting firecrackers, concern about aged people’s problems, children and animals can help everybody.”
Also, if people develop any form of itchiness or infection, they shouldn’t delay visiting a doctor, he added.
On October 25, the measure of particulate matter PM 2.5, which settles deep inside our lungs and can cause long-term respiratory problems, in certain busy locations of Delhi touched 300 micrograms per cubic meter, a level that is considered extremely unhealthy going by the global standards, according to data shared by pollution monitoring body SAFAR.
“One of the major reasons behind the deteriorating air quality is an increase in toxic pollutants from bursting of crackers and low wind speed, which settles pollution particles on the surface instead of blowing it away,” says Vikrant.
Pointing out a certain change of trend over time, Chief of Delhi Fire Services G C Mishra said, “In earlier days, Diwali used to be celebrated as a community festival. Everybody would gather together, eat and some would burst crackers while others would enjoy it. However, over the time, Diwali has become individual centric festival.”
He further said that people spend lot of money to show off their status symbol. For instance, people compete with each other reading how expensive crackers they brought and who will burst the biggest Ladri. They forget about the pollution it would cause and the way it will affect others.
“The most affected group during the festival includes infants, aged people, animals and people having respiratory problem. It’s a like nightmare for them. Some even have to get hospitalised due to the increased level of toxicants,” he said. “People should be more sensitive and the I-don’t-need-to-change attitude has to go.”
It is important to mention that in last Diwali, Delhi Fire Services received as many as 290 calls – which means one call in every five minutes – of which at least 30 per cent were such in which they got direct evidence of the blaze being caused by fire crackers.
With 290 calls, the national capital – which anyway receives much higher number of fire calls compared to other metropolitan cities during Diwali and otherwise – beat its own record of 211 calls registered in 2014 Diwali.
Last week, the Aam Adami Party (AAP)-led government in Delhi announced to have formed 11 teams to curb the sale of illegally imported firecrackers, mainly from China. The teams are also entrusted with raising awareness on anti-firecracker campaigns across the city and make sure that nobody indulges in loud revelries post 10 PM, in accordance with Supreme Court directives.
Delhi Police too has restricted the number of licenses issued for firecrackers sale. This year, the police issued license to 907 applicants, compared to 1091 licenses issued last year.
“We try to do our best with whatever resources we have. It’s impossible for us to go and check every household,” said Joint Commissioner and spokesperson of Delhi Police Dependra Pathak, referring to a potential crackdown on the violators of the apex court’s directives. “When we get a call complaining about noise, we go and check that place. Besides that, patrolling by different teams is done in a specialised way during the festival season.”