All states should implement NGT order

The National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) to ban on the sale or use of firecrackers in the National Capital Region till November 30 has literally come as a gasp of breath. Acknowledging every citizen’s right to breathe clean air, the NGT has observed that ‘celebration by crackers is for happiness and not to celebrate deaths and diseases.’India has already lost more than 1.25 lakh lives to the pandemic, even as several states are witnessing a resurgence of the disease after a short-lived lull. That is reason enough to keep the festivities subdued, neither noisy nor smoky, confining ourselves to the lighting of lamps or other means of illumination and avoiding large gatherings. Air quality levels that are deemed safe by WHO have not been seen in many Indian cities for years.
Ahead of Diwali celebrations in the country, Covid-19 cases have seen their first weekly rise since mid-September. The worry is about a wave, in which the numbers would just go on rising. The virus is here to stay in the foreseeable future, given the level of community transmission that has already taken place. Proper quantity and quality of testing is a key tool to keep it in check, to keep any new waves from growing into tsunamis. Another problem is that nationwide testing is stuck around the level achieved back in August.
Studies have found that particulate air pollution contributes 15 per cent to the Covid-19 mortality worldwide. Considering that India is among the countries worst affected by the virus, all states and union territories should ensure that the NGT’s well-intentioned initiative doesn’t go up in smoke.  In 2018, the Supreme Court had banned the use of polluting firecrackers and allowed the sale of ‘green’ ones, an option endorsed by the tribunal for cities/towns where the air quality was moderate or better in November last year. By failing to decisively act on air pollution, India is exposing its labour force to high levels of morbidity, mortality and lost productivity. Just as clean air is a fundamental right, so is access to clean water and sanitation.
Last year, Chennai experienced Day Zero of the water crisis, when there was almost no water left in the city. Using stimulus spending to upgrade critical water and sanitation infrastructure should also be a top priority. After the great impoverishment of India’s stringent nationwide lockdown, we cannot go down that path again if the pandemic resurges. Prosperity itself demands the safest Diwali.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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