Opinion

Why India Needs to Stop Celebrating Diwali.

(4-min read)

Before I state my reasons as to why I say this, it’s helpful to know a bit of context about Diwali first. Diwali is a Hindu festival that represents the triumph of good over evil, and it dates back thousands of years in India. Often, it’s celebrated with large bouts of fireworks and candles that represent the forces of good and evil through symbolically showing the triumph of light over darkness.

The use of fireworks may sound similar to July 4th celebrations, but there is one crucial difference. In America, citizens either have regulations on which fireworks they can buy for self-use or instead choose to watch professional displays. However, in India, it is commonplace for people to light their own fireworks, and due to looser restrictions on consumer firework use, they light them on a much larger scale than US citizens.

So why stop honoring this tradition now? Because it’s time to put the health of Indian’s massive population first.

An boy lights fireworks in Mumbai, India; Rafiq Maqbool/AP

Here are my main 2 reasons:

  1. 1. India’s pollution problem is severe enough in the status quo.
  2. 2. The Indian government has failed to curb pollution.

Reason 1: India’s Existing Pollution Problem

India is one of the most polluted countries in the world, ranked 5th for unhealthiest air quality in a world report done by IQAir, and 6 out of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world are from India, as of 2016.

The smog-ridden skies of Ghaziabad, ranked the ‘most polluted city’ by IQAir; TimesofIndia

So what contributes to the air pollution?

A number of factors, with construction and dust making up 45% of the air pollution, vehicle emissions at 14%, and the burning of wastes by farmers at 17%. ‘Burning of wastes’ is referring to actions done by Indian famers, who at the end of their harvests in October and November, burn the remains of their crops to replenish nutrients back into their soil. However, this being done at a large scale leads to the burning of millions of tons of crops within a short period (according to the Hindustan Times, 35 million tons of crops were burnt in the northern Indian states of Punjab and Haryana alone) during which millions of tons of smoke are pumped into the environment and stay for hours. Diwali, which also occurs in these smog-heavy months of October and November, creates large amounts of pollution from fireworks and other forms of celebration. With both of these factors, Indian urban areas experience a short-term smoke contamination shock.

This contamination shock exacerbates already-bad respiratory conditions among India’s constituents. This is a major issue because unlike developed countries from the West, hundreds of thousands of Indians already have respiratory-related diseases that are directly related to its unhealthy air quality. In fact, a recent study found that half of the children in New Delhi (over 2 million kids) suffer from severe lung problems because of this health crisis. The aforementioned added shock to the air quality during Diwali worsens these health problems, and it likely would cause higher death rates and more damage to these at-risk people.

This photo was taken before the pandemic, as Delhi citizens regularly wore masks to protect themselves from polluted air; BusinessToday.in

Reason 2: The government isn’t doing enough

If the other causes of air pollution in India are being dealt with sufficiently by the government, then there would be less concern about a short-term increase of pollution due to Diwali. But instead of limiting pollution, the current Indian government almost seems to be avoiding the issue.

Under the guidance of Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, India places greater value to improving present economic conditions instead of the environment. Before Modi, India’s environmental contribution was low, ranking 155th out of 180 countries, according to the Environmental Performance Index. However, 4 years into Modi’s term, India was ranked 176th out of 180 countries.

India’s Narendra Modi; GettyImage

The Indian Supreme Court, in an attempt to undo Modi’s environmental damage, passed restrictions that curb firework use during Diwali back in 2018, but their rulings were light, for they restricted the sale of fireworks to only ‘green fireworks’ (but what these ‘green fireworks’ are and where to find them was never specified) and set 2 hours (8-10 PM) that people can use fireworks. Due to the loose definition of ‘green firework’ and wide time frame to start and finish fireworks celebrations easily, not much has changed. In addition, due to a lack of support by leaders within Modi’s party, called Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), actual regulation of this is loose in BJP-leaning states. In fact, in many urban areas, shopkeepers continued business as usual by bribing police officers with money and with fireworks for their own children.

Since Modi likely will not intervene on behalf of rising pollution in India, the Indian Supreme Court needs to tighten their restrictions on consumer use of fireworks. They need to limit firework use to firms that have professional displays instead of allowing all citizens to light their own. Because if this pattern continues, all of India will be enveloped in smoke.


TL;DR

The main 3 things to know:

  1. 1. Diwali is a celebration where Hindu Indians light their own fireworks to celebrate the triumph of good over evil.
  2. 2. India’s pollution problem has already caused hundreds of thousands of respiratory-related deaths, so the smoke from Diwali fireworks would only worsen current air pollution.
  3. 3. Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, will not enact laws that ban firework use, so it is up to the Supreme Court of India to limit firework use and protect their citizens from harmful pollution.

Citations:

https://www.cnn.com/2020/11/15/india/toxic-smog-diwali-intl/index.html

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/india-green-fireworks-air-pollution-diwali-smog-delhi-a8810756.html

https://ig.ft.com/india-pollution/

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(18)30261-4/fulltext

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160927144248.htm

https://theprint.in/opinion/environment-is-the-most-under-reported-failure-of-narendra-modi-government/223670/

https://qz.com/india/1433253/indias-supreme-court-allows-firecrackers-for-diwali-with-riders/

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