Crackers, Air and Feelings

By GauravL 21 Comments


Fair warning – Read this blogpost as a RANT.

This Brilliant Logic seems to have taken over the Hindutva Twitter for the last week or so. A lot of well-known Rightish folks are starting I don’t like firecrackers BUT. As John Snow said in some GOT episode, everything one says before a BUT is horse shit.

Virat Kohli took to social media to tell his followers to not burn crackers and was made a meal off on the Indian twitter-sphere. Kohli virtue signaling can turn off some people as pointed out here

As someone who opposes Fire-crackers (especially the ones which leave fumes of toxic metal in winters), I would love most crackers to be banned all 365 days of the year including Diwali, New years, weddings, Cricket matches, and political victories. Having said that, QUANTITY/SIZE matters. On New years or even political victories, most of the 135 Crore plus people don’t blow millions of tons of firecrackers. Hunting wild game in a country like the United States is fine to an extent, but if Indians start hunting deer for meat the deer populations would be screwed beyond repair. India shouldn’t act with the irresponsibility with which the United States and other less dense countries can act. Comparing this to supposedly green celebrities and their diesel guzzling SUVs and ACs is stupid, Cars and AC are bad for the air quality, but they are no way close to the toxic fumes from the firecrackers which we breathe. Especially during covid times, avoiding a couple of days of breathing in metallic and toxic fumes seems to be a no brainer – but not for the times we live in.

The way with which governments and NGT have acted against firecrackers on eve of Diwali knee jerk reaction and needs to be called out. Governments as usual have taken the easy low-hanging fruit instead of acting on deeper problems of air pollution in North India. The arbitrariness of the action is bad and heartless but is burning crackers to spite of governments and liberals equally stupid – like the angry husband who hates alcohol but drinks just to spite his wife. Especially for people who don’t like burning crackers, it’s a classic case of putting feelings/politics over principles. While firecrackers are not the primary or even the secondary cause of air pollution in India, they certainly have the capacity to push the AQI from Severe to Hazardous for a couple of days.

Enough ranting, let’s make some pictures do some talking. These pictures are from my terrace in Pune. Unlike North India, there is no stubble burning which causes the annual spike in pollution levels. With that variable out, it’s easier to see the drastic effects of crackers on the air quality

This is a photograph from my terrace around noon today. An unusual turn of weather has meant the air quality today was exceptionally good. There were very few firecrackers today morning.
As a result, the evening started with clear skies and good visibility
Within two hours of moderate crackers, the air is visibly and significantly poorer

If crackers continue with a higher rate for longer, by midnight today this view would be drastically altered with exceedingly poor visibility (a good proxy for poor and toxic air). In all likelihood, the gulf of smoke surrounding the city will remain over the city for a couple of days (depending on wind and weather conditions).

No clear skies, dull polluted air over the city on 15th November – a day after Laxmi puja

On occasions when the city gets caught in the perfect storm (like it did last year), the next couple of days would be incredibly poor viz. air quality.

Last year on 28th October I woke up around 700 to this. Laxmi Pujan was on 27th October. It is a distinct possibility that tomorrow morning will be similar.

I have not been to Delhi during the peak of air pollution however on 28/10/19 a ten-minute walk drastically affected my eyes and throat giving me a taste of what life might be for Delhites. It’s not about the Environment in the abstract, it’s about the air we breathe. Is it worth compromising the already pathetic air quality for a couple of hours of fun? or worse just to spite the other side and make a political point? 


Happy Diwali to everyone – even those who would find this rant unpalatable 🙂



21 Replies to “Crackers, Air and Feelings”

  1. I just wanted to quickly add something here. The firecrackers aren’t bursted on Diwali just for fun (although that is why most people do it nowadays since many Hindus don’t know much about their traditions).

    The month before Diwali is known as a time when we invite the ancestors to arrive to the living world (mahalaya). The reason that firecrackers are burnt once the month is up during Diwali is because they light up the path for our ancestors to go back to their world. This is similar to other festivals where ancestor reverence is a thing where various forms of light are a way to provide guidance for the ancestors (ex. Lantern Festival in China).

    While I’m fine with having some sort of regulations like having environmentally friendly firecrackers or moderating their use, fireworks/firecrackers are a significant aspect of celebrating Diwali.

  2. “I would love most crackers to be banned all 365 days of the year including Diwali”

    I’m fine with a perma ban, but that’s not what the “progressive” crowd is asking for. Most of the crowd doesn’t actually give two shits about the environment like they claim too, they’re more interested in tinkering with Diwali.

    They’ll lecture about how crackers are totally unnecessary but instantly disappear when someone points out the insane amount of damage the meat industry does to the environment even though it’s a well established fact that humans today don’t need meat to survive. I know that it’s not a 1:1 analogy, but you get the gist. Why does the environmental concern disappear even though the impact is inarguably bigger? Is it merely because you can actually hear crackers and see a drop in visibility on Diwali? Will people only take the meat industry seriously if it had a similar effect everyday?

    If crackers continue with a higher rate for longer, by midnight today this view would be drastically altered with exceedingly poor visibility (a good proxy for poor and toxic air). In all likelihood, the gulf of smoke surrounding the city will remain over the city for a couple of days (depending on wind and weather conditions). If the city gets caught in the perfect storm (like it did last year), the next couple of days would be incredibly poor viz. air quality.

    This points to the bigger problem of population density. You won’t see such a massive drop in visibility due to crackers in some village or a small town. And now imagine Pune when India’s income levels improve and cars are affordable, you’ll be stuck with bad air year-round and not just a few days. The average person being able to afford crackers just shows you how crowded it is.

    Is it worth compromising the already pathetic air quality for a couple of hours of fun?

    If only people took as much interest in making sure the air isn’t generally pathetic as they do while whining during Diwali.

    And I’m willing to bet all my money that it won’t end at crackers. Even if the Govt. bans crackers tomorrow and not a single unit is lit next year, woke clowns will probably bark about how diyas cause light pollution or are a major fire hazard etc. And maybe more Ramayana-bashing and what not. Seen similar stuff during other festivals too. You know how the pattern goes.

    P.S. Haven’t burst crackers for the past 6-7 yrs

  3. If firecrackers can be replaced by something like this would be pretty cool

    Maybe a trial run in a small town.

    Have them do some Diwali motifs, so it’s not seen as an anti-Hindu Diwali ban type move to ban firecrackers.

    If you are viewed as replacing the tradition in a respectful way, rather then merely selectively suppressing a very minor source of overall pollution associated with a religion you will have more buy in.

    Fireworks may seem frivolous to you, but air travel or excessive meat consumption is probably very frivolous to some poor person who can’t afford it (and a massive contributor to pollution)

    What I see is a privileged class of people who go on overseas holidays absentmindedly lecturing poor people, singling out their most important holy day.

    1. “Maybe a trial run in a small town.”

      Hehe. We can probably start with Ayodhya.
      I am sure our Korean brothers will help us with some technology.

    2. Isn’t it comparable to telling tribals who have hunted for years in the forests to stop hunting because we want to save the wildlife or protect the environment ? Even that transition took time for the poor to acclimatize too right ?

      1. Hunting’s impact on endangered species is extremely negative.

        Diwali fireworks are relatively minor impact.

        Kinda digressing here but hunting is more nuanced, I am pro hunting in some cases (for eg. Invasive species) if its managed well.

        1. yes. but because we start with the assumption that conservation of endangered species is desirable – some tribals might not share that assumption.
          Take the case of Naga tribes who have been known to hunt Hornbills for ritualistic and other purposes.
          Its the regulation wrt hunting – Eg- Neelgai and boars are classified as pests in certain cases and can be hunted but if everyone starts hunting the pests can become endangered in a couple of years – that’s all it takes with our technology and population sizes.
          Be it those or crackers – if the SCALE is small the negative effects aren’t high but if it’s high then we are heading towards more trouble unless there is a pushback.
          30 or so years ago Indians were burning so fewer crackers it was a nonissue.
          But with our rising purchasing power and insatiable appetites, the scale of cracker use is out of whack. Every next person wants to explode more crackers and stand out and nowadays they can easily afford to do so. This is where it becomes a problem.

          During my parent’s generations, they saved up for months and burst a handful of crackers 1-2 days of Diwali and that was it.

          I dont condone the knee jerk and blanket bans

    3. @Sumit, Prats
      Won’t happen.
      These guys had 3K drones. Let us assume we make do with 500 cheapo drones worth $200 each. That is $100K in drones(which btw will have zero resale value in 3-4 years). Then we need a couple of not so cheap electrical/flight-controls/embedded people to write (copy-paste from github) the algorithms for formation flying and setting up drones. Say $40K in salaries, and $10K in repairs, transport, paperwork and other shit.
      20K annually fixed costs of drone
      10K for repairs
      40K salaries

      70K a year to have maybe what 10 bookings, and how much do you think will people pay for it? Diwali, New Year, Christmas, Republic Day, Independence Day, Gandhi Jayanti, one off Gujju navratri or Bong Durga Puja, and maybe a few college fests (these guys don’t pay shit).

      The math doesn’t work out, no one really wants to pay for it (look at so many ‘mapping’, aerial photography startups in India with 20 something guy and a DJI Phantom). It just doesn’t pay and is too risky.

  4. This issue basically summarizes Hindu grievances. It’s a matter of fair application of rules. Hindus in the suburbs would rather breathe metals than give up fireworks.

    I sympathise with poor population for whom such celebrations are small blessings, not to mention a source of income. The transition would have to be gradual and simultaneous with alternative celebrations, otherwise good luck changing behaviors. We’re talking about changing a longstanding community ritual that’s loads of fun and connected to a current religious issue – I doubt calling people names will be productive. “But” I don’t have to suffer the Pune air (anymore), so it seasy for me to say.

    Aside: the “anything that comes after but..” quip comes from Lord Eddard Stark.

      1. Dear Gauav
        Your views are the extremist views. Il am a pure vegetarian, dont use eggs or even leather fur etc. If you read Maneka Gandhi or hear cosmic skeptic meat eating is a great cause of pollution. Shall we ban meat altogether. It won’t matter to me, but lot of guys will see red. You have your pet cause ban crackers I have mine. But you cannot impose it on others. Shall we ban vehicles and cars 365 days a year. As they cause a LOT more pollution , than crackers on Diwali. Are you ready to ride, horses and camels and bullock carts ,turn pure vegetarian…..and the polluting industries…..where do we start where do we end. Point is we don’t live in an ideal world.
        For devout Jain’s and Hindus and vegetarian s the goat slaughtering is a v painful fest. If they dare ask for a ban , how many liberals will support them?

        1. Wrong comparison
          Does the meat eaten by others make ur breathing difficult?
          Don’t throw the Beef argument here. Raising Cows (especially for Beef) causes global warming and is anyways banned in India so that argument is nonsequitur But Cows don’t let off toxic metal fumes which stay in the atmosphere- when they are killed.
          Vehicles have standards they have to adhere to wrt pollutions – crackers don’t. No regulation or anything.
          I personally would be fine with an annual ban on crackers – BUT I don’t demand the ban – there is a difference between those two stands. I am not even defending Government knee jerk bans.
          Crackers coz significant spike lowering the already pathetic air and the fumes are more toxic by all accounts than petrol vehicular pollution. Anyways actions are already undertaken for regulation of diesel vehicles.

  5. I thought that the number of crackers burst yesterday in Delhi was less than 3-4 years ago but it’s very difficult to not expect a few ten thousand folks to rebel in a city of tens of millions.

    The air today is filthy. There’s some black stuff in my cough. I can taste the tar in my throat.

    All of this said, my problem with the whole cracker debate is that it’s a red herring.

    The main sources of Delhi’s pollution are:
    1. Stubble burning
    2. Industrial pollutants
    3. Dust and sand from Aravallis that gets spread around by heavy vehicles
    4. Vehicular pollution

    These have been known for a while now. But we haven’t been able to fix any of them.

    Diwali is a good way to distract people and make them fight over some issue that lasts at max 3-4 days a year.

    Ask the politicians to fix stubble burning first. Ask AAP to expedite EV adoption. Rest is just political bullshit.

  6. I can’t understand people’s psychology …why are we connect every suggestion to our religion,beliefs or In Marathi Asmita….
    If it is Nobel cause then it is the Nobel no matter who said it ….
    I mean everybody I mate, discussed about this issue of fire crackers, agrees on the issue but not ready to get rid of this …reason is worst (who are you to tell me that I shouldn’t fire crackers )…
    And why only to my religion beliefs….
    Come on man forget about who are telling this to you stop using if you really believe this is an issue …

  7. Gaurav, this post produced as much enlightenment as a dalda-filled diya. There are two pictures – all around 2 days – with no controls for a non-Diwali day or a Diwali-without-firecrackers or firecrackers-on-a-non-Diwali. So your shabby experiment does not even qualify as scientific.

    But then I guess that is too much rigor to expect. Scientific outlook and non-bias requires labor! In the below paper is a time-series for the AQI index at RK Puram, Delhi for the past 5 years……every day.

    On page 8, you can see that Diwali has consistently been the 78th most polluted (third quartile) day of the year. In other words, fireworks are not leading contributors to the number of bad AQI days. The IIT Kanpur study also produces the same conclusion – its road dust, vehicles and industries which produce the most PM2.5 and PM10 contributions.

    It would be a better idea to ban all vehicular movement on Diwali to enable bursting of firecrackers. Then the lost AQI due to fireworks would be compensated by the removal of two major leading contributors – vehicular emissions and road dust

    The phenomenon to be studied is how Indian “dalda liberals” start aggregating and moralizing around Hindu festivals with no real intent to improve anything. All human activities create externalities – what is required is a balance. The absence of harmonizing liberal arguments in India creates risks for society and also a delegitimization of saner voices. A phuljhadi is much less toxic!!

    1. Why are u so intent on strawmanning and misrepresenting ?
      Did I say crackers are the major source of pollution ?
      I don’t even think they’re the secondary important cause. I have seen the Kanpur research and am aware of different strands causing pollution.

      My point here was the spike by Crackers on an already saturated air further leads to a temporary spike ( depending on Air conditions up to 2 days).
      Even with a comparitibly less bad baseline in Deccan and South – the spike due to crackers is substantial. And it’s felt annually and seen even in the AQI.

      In Pune yesterday morning the AQI was 180 now it’s 334 in a region (Katraj).
      If you take out the baseline which is below 200 it’s still above 100 which is bad for vulnerable.
      In delhi the baseline is so ridiculously high that spike of crackers might not be significant. In Pune I have been observing for last 4-5 years – the spike is real and people are affected adversely by it (asthma patients and allergy prone ppl).

      And don’t give BS externalities lecture – as if ppl are going to stop the driving vehicles. If they do to offset the crackers smoke – I am your guest – all the best in getting that Pro Hindu movment started.

      It’s not just your Dalda liberals – most BJP governments have also jumped on the anti crackers bandwagon and they’re doing something which I don’t condone ( blanket ban). So spare me your name calling and use it for Yogi, Modi and others.

      Happy Diwali

      1. Your article lacks any sort of factual references apart from your anecdotal photographs (beautiful before vs ugly after) so any counter with facts will start looking like strawmen to you. You keep on implying that AQI spike on the day after Diwali is due to firecrackers alone.

        Fireworks are part of the Indian calendar for a very long time now. Forty years ago, there was no AQI deterioration in major cities including Pune. Reason: there was no vehicle density of the type seen now. So its not Diwali which is causing the spike into dangerous territory. The same legal principle is used in animal-human conflict cases. Tigers and elephants have been here for time immemorial. It is human habitat which is intruding into the animal corridors.

        In Delhi, the sight of Hindu devotees wading into the frothing and chemical laced Yamuna on Chhath Puja has forced authorities to accelerate their cleanup of the river. In the same way, the adherence to bursting firecrackers should force the administration to start asking questions on the other 364 days of the year.

        The post-postscript Diwali greetings at the end of a long sermon is such perfect dalda-liberal tokenism 🙂

    2. “On page 8, you can see that Diwali has consistently been the 78th most polluted (third quartile) day of the year. In other words, fireworks are not leading contributors to the number of bad AQI days. The IIT Kanpur study also produces the same conclusion – its road dust, vehicles and industries which produce the most PM2.5 and PM10 contributions.”

      This analysis is only useful if we are assuming that the distribution of the data is ergodic.

      If my neighbour in Moti Bagh is bursting crackers it means really bad air for me and other people in our locality. But it won’t be captured as a spike on a sensor in RK Puram a kilometre away because the emission will get diffused over that distance.

      (Also important to bear in mind that this is one of the most gentrified sparsely populated parts of Delhi)

      The case for vehicular pollution is similar. If you are cycling on the road in Old Delhi, the amount of particulate matter you are breathing is way high even if the total contribution of that to overall PM levels in the city is fractional.

      Overall contribution to PM2.5 levels doesn’t tell you how bad a certain source of pollution is to actual human well being.

      [I agree with the assessment that the focus should be on reducing systemic sources but let’s not brush crackers under the carpet.]

  8. Rather than creating a better process, the spineless govt banned them altogether. Enforce the green crackers rules, that will go a long way in satisfying the crowd that wants to burst the crackers and the crowd that wants less air pollution. But a blanket ban a week before deepavali is just absurd and stupid.


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