Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXIII No. 15, November 16-30, 2023
As is usually the norm, the city’s Air Quality Index (AQI) was scrutinized a day after the Deepavali festivities. Chennai’s AQI – a metric that is an average of 24-hour data – dipped to the ‘poor to very poor category’ in local stations such as Alandur, Arumbakkam, Kodungaiyur, Manali, Royapuram and Velachery. Guidelines derived from national index measures rate an AQI between 0 to 50 as good; 51-100 satisfactory; 101-200 moderate; 200-300 poor, 301-400 very poor and 401-500 severe. Manali recorded the highest index at 327 followed by Velachery (322), Arumbakkam (262) and Alandur (253). A statement from the TNPCB (Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board) said that the dip can be attributed to higher than normal usage of firecrackers and high relative humidity. TNPCB Deputy Director Sankara Subramanian pointed out that additional impact was felt from low wind speeds in a quote to The South First, remarking, “Adding to this, meteorological conditions were not in favour of Chennai. The wind speed was poor on Sunday and so, pollutants were sustained for a long time.”
Advisories issued ahead of Deepavali stipulated that celebrants were to burst green firecrackers made of environment-friendly substances only between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. in the morning and 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the evening. No cracker was to be manufactured or sold that would generate over 125 decibels of sound. With many flouting the norms, police teams led by inspectors actively enforced the rules. 554 cases were reportedly registered against the bursting of crackers outside the time windows; 8 against to the illicit operation of firecracker shops; and 19 for creating excessive noise from firecrackers. Roughly 210 tonnes of cracker waste is said to have been generated during the holiday. 19,000 conservancy workers are helping segregate the waste into jute bags; waste from firecrackers will be safely transported to the industrial waste plant centre at Gummudipoondi for further processing per TNPCB norms. The administration is working to complete the exercise at the earliest as it will be more complex to execute post rainfall. As for mishaps, The Hindu reported that the Fire and Rescue Services control room received 102 calls for assistance in putting out fires, all of which were only minor accidents.
While some have voiced resentment about the regulations around Deepavali celebrations, such rules are important to curb a spike in air pollution; reports reveal that this season of firecrackers leaves adverse impacts that linger for as long as a week, the exposure of which can cause severe health issues in the very young, vulnerable and elderly. According to Ms. Jayanthi, the TNPCB Chairman, the city’s pollution levels are lower compared to the last year. She said, in a quote to The New Indian Express, “Overall, the city’s pollution levels have come down by 40 per cent compared to last year. Manual monitoring was conducted in seven different locations in the city – Besant Nagar, T Nagar, Nungambakkam, Triplicane, Sowcarpet, Valasaravakkam and Tiruvottiyur – to monitor the impact of the bursting of crackers during Deepavali. The AQI observed from 6am Sunday to 6am Monday, ranged between 207 and 365. The AQI last year was between 345 and 786.”
While this is undeniably an improvement, police data (mentioned above) suggests widespread violation of the timing restrictions. Some of the accidents reported by the media also point to irresponsible use of firecrackers. For instance, a rocket was the cause of a fire break out on the premises of the Sai Baba Temple in Mylapore on Deepavali night; no one was injured, though the event is said to have caused significant material damage. An incident was reported from the IIT-Madras campus as well – noisy crackers caused panic among animals within the premises, prompting them to run amok into traffic. The animals – a black buck, a spotted deer and a palm civet cat – sustained injuries and were taken to the Besant Memorial Animal Hospital at Besant Nagar. The question arises as to where the current regulations and enforcement as well as public awareness campaigns can improve further to instill a greater sense of civic responsibility among celebrants. Some events – such as the IIT Madras incident above – suggest that perhaps the rules need to be expanded; many green enthusiasts, for example, have renewed calls for the establishment of ‘no-cracker zones’ to safeguard flora and fauna in protected areas. There is also room to explore norms around bursting certain crackers such as rockets in dense urban areas. The trick will lie in drafting effective rules while balancing religious and traditional sentiments; the elaboration of such norms can all too easily be interpreted as an increased burden on celebration. Public messaging must grow beyond one-way communication in the form of campaigns – there must be a platform, such as the area sabhas, to conduct a civil public discussion on such issues.