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Cracker ban hopefully helps in fighting choking winter air

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By Sidharth Mishra

One was pleasantly surprised last week to see a notification from Delhi government banning the use of crackers till January 1, 2023. The element of surprise was the early notification and a good feeling that despite the ongoing political fracas, there were people in the bureaucracy alive to the problems of the people.

The notified ban is similar to the practise in the past years when the Supreme Court, and on its goading the city government, clamped restrictions on the use of crackers during the festival of lights -- Diwali, and the winter marriage season. These bans were notified as part of the steps taken to check ever rising air pollution.

However, in the past the bans came late giving ample time for the sale of crackers in the grey market. Thus despite the ban one always woke up to the morning after Diwali to choking air.

The early announcement of ban should caution the cracker manufacturers to bring down the rate of production. The government may also keep an eye on the source of crackers rather than clamping down on the godowns and shops at a later date.

This should also help deterring the huge investments which go into the cracker business, as Diwali is celebrated with much fervour not only in Delhi but in almost all the parts of North India. However, it must be noted that high air pollution is peculiar to Delhi and much more than other part North India. This is largely due to Delhiā€™s geographical position, which is like a passage between the plains of Punjab and Ganga-Yamuna doab.

The westerly winds during winters bring with them smoke from the farm fires. The farmers burn paddy stubble on their fields in Punjab and Haryana, the smoke from which travels with the wind to Delhi before it spreads out in the Gangetic plains. The narrow geographical passage of Delhi concentrates the smoke from farm fires adding to air pollution in the city.

However, studies have shown that farm fires alone are not to be blamed for winter air pollution in the national Capital. Smoke from farm fires contribute at its peak contributes 40% to the air pollution in Delhi. What then chokes Delhi? Diwali crackers for sure have a role. The biggest contributor, however, is automobile pollution, which has steadily increased, thanks to the shrinking public transport network. The Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal believes public transport would improve by giving free rides to women on the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC)- run buses. Give them a free ride by all means but first get the buses to ply on the roads.

In the past eight years, the average kilometres covered daily by the DTC fleet has come down from 9.68 lakh to 6.32 lakh or less. This has brought down the number of passengers carried per day from 46.77 lakh to 31.01 lakh. This has all happened because the number of buses in the DTC fleet has come down from 6,204 in March 2013 to around 3,000 in the present. In the past eight years the number of operational DTC depots has come down from 46 to 39. The bigger scandal is that 99.15 percent buses are over-aged and not fuel-efficient, thus adding their bit to the pollution.

However, early notification of ban on Diwali crackers give a hope that the government was having a plan for this winter to combat the menace of choking air caused by multiple sources. How effective is the plan, one would only get to know when winter comes? 

(First Published in The Morning Standard)  


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