Opinion

No Diwali Dhamaka

J Srinivasan | Updated on November 12, 2020

NGT ban on crackers will singe distributors

An ad ends with the protagonist, who has got a gift of a smartphone, giving two packets to the two children studying with him. Opening the gifts, the eyes of the kids glitter as brightly as the sparklers in the gift packs would. That is the joy of Diwali.

Smart marketing has shifted the attention of most people and even children to clothes, accessories, phones, devices, etc. But the actual sparkle, and sound, of Diwali comes from the crackers. This will be missing this year, with the National Green Tribunal handing out a blanket ban on sale and use of crackers across 23 States.

The ban will as much steal the sparkle for kids and the declining number of adults looking forward to bursting crackers as for the families that survive by distributing and selling fireworks. The manufacturing units and the people dependent on it — over two lakh people are said to work in the making of fireworks — are not singed as the dispatch is no doubt long complete. Is this why there is not much of a protest from the industry, or the government of Tamil Nadu; Sivakasi in the State is after all the home of fireworks manufacturing in the country? Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister appealed to a couple of States that had banned fireworks, even before the NGT did. But nothing more.

Complete ban

Yes, the pollution issue was this year compounded by Covid, which affects the respiratory system. There was undoubtedly a need to keep the air clean.

But need the NGT have handed out a complete ban? Could it not have tempered it by giving a window of, say, two/three hours in the morning and evening to burst crackers even just on Diwali day? This is what Punjab has done now, softening its earlier ban.

Spare a thought for the distributors/retailers of fireworks. Some 80 lakh people are said to be associated with the distribution, by taking temporary licences to sell fire-crackers just during the Diwali season. With no offtake during the subdued Vinayaka Chaturthi and no orders for weddings, many of which were cancelled because of the pandemic, as it is the distributors would have been hurt. The ban is perhaps the proverbial last straw.

The timing of the ban could not have been worse. Coming in the week running up to Diwali, and with fireworks already in godowns across the country, distributors/retailers will be hard put to salvage the situation. Ditto for the people who may have already bought fire-crackers. Surely, the NGT would know about the stubble burning that compromises air quality in the North at this time of the year, year after year; the coming of Diwali, also at about this time of the year, and the raging pandemic.

It could have done the ban at least three months earlier so that those in the supply chain would have refrained from committing funds. It is a ₹3,000-crore industry and considerable sums are no doubt blocked. In these difficult times, not many, certainly not the small street-corner retailer, can afford to lock up, if not lose, funds.

Will the State governments be able to do anything to help the distributors/retailers, as Punjab has done? But since it is the NGT that has handed out a ban, they can conveniently wring their hands helplessly.

Ironically, the NGT ban comes in a year Sivakasi has come up with green crackers, two years after a Supreme Court order. And, these will remain untested, except in Tamil Nadu.

The NGT could have had them tried for their claims and then taken its onerous decision, rather than kill the Diwali Dhamaka outright.

Published on November 12, 2020

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