“It is largely because of the shift in focus from noise to air pollution. Till now, thanks to the Calcutta High Court order, we were mandated to control noise pollution by prohibiting high-decibel fireworks. But the court banned all fireworks this year. Later, the NGT and the Supreme Court, too, championed the same cause. Naturally, the focus shifted from noise to air. Since air pollution entails all kinds of fireworks, it made all the difference,” said a WBPCB officer.
“The low-decibel yet high-emission fireworks never come under enforcement. So, over time, these high-emission fireworks have gained popularity. The more dazzling the fireworks, the higher is the emission level. In 2019, the PM2.5 concentration rose to 700, nearly 12 times the permissible limit,” said a WBPCB scientist.
Controlling air pollution had become a huge challenge for enforcement agencies. But Covid changed plans. “Covid did what we could not achieve despite our long battle against fireworks polluting the air,” said Subhas Datta, an environment activist.
The frontline health experts also raised a timely alert about the havoc that foul air can cause. “These inputs were considered by the judiciary before passing the order,” said Somendra Mohan Ghosh, another activist. However, it is largely due to the people’s exemplary restraint that the endeavour was successful. Although there were some pockets of aberrations, the overall impact has been good.
Barring Rabindra Bharati University (RBU), monitoring stations recorded AQI to be under 200. At RBU, the AQI rose beyond 200 (poor) after noon, and gradually rose to 226 at 8pm. “The spike happened at noon when there were no fireworks. So it might have been due to smoke from the Pramod Nagar dumping site,” said a WBPCB officer. “AQI remained within the moderate level across the continuous ambient air quality monitoring stations, which was a big change,” said Sudipto Bhattacharya of Saviours and Friends of Environment.
Social scientist Pradip Chakraborty said, “The pandemic has instilled empathy among citizens as they saw death in the neighbourhood. These were jolts to people who had no awareness about the environment, leading to a large number of people suddenly taking keen interest in the environment and air quality.”
“Ultimately it is people’s awareness that matters. I know a friend who used to spend a few lakhs on fireworks. This time he spent only on LED lamps to decorate his house. It is a welcome change. I think a lot of kids also persuaded their parents not to buy fireworks,” said Ajay Mittal of Bengal Clean Air Network.