Till 8pm, the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (WBPCB) and Sabuj Mancha, a state-wide network of green NGOs and individual activists,had not received even a single complaint on use of fireworks from the city. The ones that came had to do with blaring loudspeakers at pandals. After 8pm, reports of people bursting crackers slowly started trickling in. By 10pm, the WBPCB had received 10 complaints from the city and Sabuj Mancha 38, but mostly from the outskirts. Kolkata Police was prompt to crack down on violators and rounded up 290 people by 11pm.
Across the river in Howrah, however, violation was rampant in areas like Shibpur and Bantra, prompting police to launch raids in different localities to enforce the fireworks ban. “We have launched raids to nab the culprits,” Howrah police commissioner Kunal Agarwal said. A WBPCB official acknowledged that complaints had poured in from Howrah and other districts. “We have forwarded these to respective police stations and asked our regional offices to follow them up,” said an official.
WBPCB chairman Kalyan Rudra attributed the restraint in Kolkata to a combination of factors: a string of judicial orders, people’s heightened awareness about the pandemic situation and timely action by police in seizing crackers being illegally smuggled into the city. “It was people who desisted from lighting fireworks, it will be quite a remarkable Diwali,” he added.
Over the past few days, around 3,000 kg of firecrackers were seized from different checkpoints at the entrance to the city as well as local neighbourhoods while cops were deployed at traditional trouble spots and around Covid hospitals.
Even the usually strident environment crusader, Subhas Datta, admitted enforcing the cracker ban was no mean achievement. “I haven’t witnessed a Diwali like this. Firecrackers incidents are down by over 70%,” said Dutta, who lives in Howrah.
Senior pulmonologist and frontline Covid warrior Dr Arup Haldar was relieved that people had heeded to their appeals and behaved responsibly. “I want to congratulate the citizens, judiciary and enforcement agencies for making this possible. Fireworks would have made it far more critical than Durga Puja revelry.”
Kolkata Police officers candidly admitted that this would not have been possible but for the awareness and cooperation of people. “There is an understanding that crackers may cause harm to Covid patients. The court orders too have had an effect. We have to ensure that this restraint continues till Jagatdhatri Puja,” said joint CP (headquarters) Subhankar Sinha Sarkar.
Cops from Bidhannagar Commissionerate also commended people for shunning crackers and embracing a pollution-free Diwali. “There were hardly any complaints. We continued with naka checks to prevent drink driving as well as to inspect if anyone was carrying firecrackers,” said an officer of Bidhannagar Commissionerate.