Reduction in bursting of firecrackers is proof education can cure many ills

Many schools have, over the years, tried to persuade children to avoid crackers.

 |  4-minute read |   03-11-2019
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Many reports suggest that fewer crackers were purchased and burst this Diwali. This should mean that noise and air pollution were not as bad this time in many cities as in previous years. It is hard to be objective on such matters. As far as noise pollution is concerned, one can hardly recall the noise levels of previous years with any degree of exactitude.

Cracker conscious

No one can produce verifiable or recorded noise from older Diwali nights. Also, our capacity to live with constant loud noise has been increasing consistently. Therefore, most of us cannot say whether things are better now. As for air pollution, it seems there was not much difference on Diwali night itself and in the days that followed it. All one can say with some confidence is that the days preceding Diwali were better, as far as crackers are concerned. One can recall many old Diwalis when crackers started two weeks in advance. That did not happen last year, and this year too, nobody burst crackers till a day before Diwali. How did this change occur?

There are two possible answers, and you can divide the supporters of these answers into two distinct groups. Those who attribute the decline of crackers to an increase in public awareness are apparently positive-minded people. Others attribute the decline to the non-availability of crackers, caused by the severe legal restrictions imposed on the sale of crackers. If you live in Delhi, you are likely to trust the first view; truth lies with the second. You can find the evidence for this by spending your Diwali away from Delhi — in towns where crackers are available in plenty and remain so throughout the wedding season. Indeed, the crackers burnt in Delhi are mostly purchased and brought from these smaller cities and towns. Quite a few people store them personally, so they can use them to celebrate victories in cricket and other such contingencies. A modest increase in public awareness cannot be discounted either. It has occurred mainly because many schools have, over the years, tried to persuade children to avoid crackers. Many of these children are now adults and they are not all that excited about crackers. Some of them recognise that crackers add to the smog.

Taming tobacco

Adults who think like that are probably a tiny minority. They can’t make a big difference to the density of smog. Concrete measures like change in construction schedule and norms, reduction in vehicular density and ban on burning of garbage can make a far bigger difference. But it is a comforting thought that enhanced awareness also matters. The situation is no different in other areas of public concern. Take driving. Public awareness about seat belts and helmets is a fine idea and it is rightly being promoted. However, a lot of professional drivers and young people will tell you that they put on seat belts mainly because they are afraid of the police and don’t like to pay hefty fines. If you argue with them that it is safer to wear seat belts, they look at you with disbelief that you can be such a bore. Indeed, drivers of inter-city taxis and trucks have plenty more to contribute to the debate on public awareness versus concrete measures. Chewing scented material taken out of a pouch is rampant among long-distance drives.

Clearing the haze

Earlier, it used to carry tobacco; now, the law forbids the popular brands to do that. Drivers say the scented stuff, especially if mixed with chewing tobacco, prevents them from nodding off to sleep. Ban on certain brands of masala has helped, but the habit persists. Many drivers are aware of the consequences of chewing a scented mixture; they say it helps them to handle a tough work routine. Let us finally come to stubble burning. Many city dwellers have adopted the view that this is the main cause of smog. They persist in this belief even if you quote figures about the average contribution of stubble burning.

It is both convenient and highly satisfying to think that village peasants are responsible for city smog. Those with expertise on this matter tell you that the farmer’s preference for burning has to do with speedy crop cycle, choice of crop and financial capacity. But the city dweller likes to believe that it is all a matter of awareness, and famers lack it. I am sure this view is not without some truth. A good question, then, is: Can seasonal awareness campaigns compensate for consistent neglect of rural education? That question can be raised in many spheres of public life, and the answer in nearly every case will be in the negative. Weekly or fortnightly efforts to raise awareness are useful, but there is no substitute for high investment, along with sustained public interest, in education.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Once upon a time on Diwali: How I discovered Mumbai and myself


Krishna Kumar Krishna Kumar

Author is former director of NCERT.

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