By Roshni Chakrabarty and Arnab Mitra
Kolkata/New Delhi: Workers from the famed Bengal firecracker industry are facing a crisis due to the decision of the East Zone Bench of National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) to uphold a move by the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) on Thursday to cap the noise level limit at 90 decibels for Diwali, even though a limit of 125 decibels is in effect in the rest of the country.
Recently, the Supreme Court refused a blanket ban on firecrackers, stating that a ban was not the proper measure to solve the pollution issue. It had, instead, directed the Centre and the state governments to give wide publicity to the ill effects of cracker bursting, including sound and air pollution.
Legal assistant Ujjal Barua said, “The NGT East Zone Bench has commended the state government on this step. They said that if the limit is increased to 125, then the state, which has an extreme pollution level would undergo a huge damage in these 3-4 days.
The workers from Champahati and Nungi, two major firecracker industries in India, said that the decision puts them at a loss compared to the rest of the country. The firecracker producers from Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, another major firecracker industry in India, do not face any such restriction and can freely produce crackers catering to the nationwide 125 decibel sound limit.
China leads the world’s firecracker production at 90% and faces no restriction on an international level as well, thus supplying firecrackers to bigger events such as T20 tournaments or award ceremonies. India, on the other hand, claims 10% of the world market, of which, the two Bengal firecracker industries hold a 4-5% stake.
WBPCB officials cited the extreme pollution levels in Bengal and stated that bursting firecrackers here might tilt the environmental balance. However, the major flaw in this decision lies in the fact that the officials are barely active during the rest of the year when the state experiences a lot of sound pollution from a party’s promotion on loudspeakers, any protest or movement, club events, or idol immersions during Durga Puja.
Would the bursting of sound crackers like shells, chocolate bombs, kaliphotka and dodoma during these 2-4 days of Diwali period really cause any grave harm to the state which it doesn’t experience otherwise? When these firework products are available over the entire national market, what is the point in restricting the sale in just one state?
High quality firecrackers from Champahati and Nungi are in demand in the all-India market for Diwali and Chhat puja. The WBPCB ruling has hampered this side of the business as well as the sound crackers form a large portion of the firecracker industry. The Sivakasi fireworks industry would be able to cater to the all-India market demand while the Bengal firework industries run at a loss.
Acting secretary of Champahati Firecracker Samity, Sankar Mondal said, “A ban really doesn’t prevent people from bursting the kind of crackers they want to. Every year you can hear so called ‘illegal’ crackers being burst. If recent statistics are seen, high sound level crackers are actually on the rise. If the customers don’t get what they want from Bengal, they just resort to getting them from elsewhere, such as from Bihar or Munger.”
While Mondal agreed with the fact that pollution in Bengal has been on the rise, he also added that the factories don’t halt production just because of such bans. “Most of these kinds of products end up in the black market at higher prices.”
Speaking on the people arrested almost every year for bursting high sound level crackers, Mondal says, “Nothing comes out of it, as most of the time, they are let free very soon.”
Sonarpur citizen Dr Kalipada Ghosh said that crackers start bursting in the neighbourhood even before Kali Puja or Diwali and the ban won’t change anything. “The local boys create even more powerful fireworks than chocolate bombs.”
“While the police don’t really concern themselves with bigger crimes such as stolen automobiles or other property, it is rather funny to think they would go to investigate whether someone is bursting a chocolate bomb or kaliphotka,” Ghosh added.
Central government employee Manoj Shaw lives with his father, a retired army personnel in poor health. For him, the bigger issue lay in the loudspeakers which blare Bollywood songs till late at night.
They welcomed the 90-decibel limit but believe that the government should definitely look into the plight of the firecracker workers whose livelihood completely depends on the cracker industry. “A middle ground has to be achieved where the common people as well the workers are not at a loss.”
The Workers Union representatives said that the rise in prices of raw materials such as ash, sand and gunpowder has made business difficult as sales would fall if the product prices are raised accordingly.
The Champahati railway station is connected to the firecracker market itself by roads which are in an extremely poor condition. MP Sugata Basu has been notified of the issue but no step has been taken. The lack of proper administration and policing in the area discourages customers who might face harassment and robbery issues.
The workers state that the administration only creates a nuisance in the area. The police allegedly pay a visit for a couple of days each week and confiscates the ‘illegal’ items, but doesn’t pay attention to the other issues in the area.
The state government hasn’t come up with any aid or scheme to compensate for this problem. Workers have started to move to other businesses and, if this situation continues, within 2-3 years, the art of cracker making would soon meet the same fate as several other art forms.
A single ban will not solve the pollution issue that the nation or the states face. Proper measures need to be taken in the form of continuous campaigning and awareness programmes on the evils of pollution. The government must take care of all sides and reach a balanced decision which would keep the environment, the workers and the customers happy.