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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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SOUND CHECK

In Calcutta, sound and fury evidently signify a great deal. This must be the reason why traders are feeling so disgruntled with the ban on noisy firecrackers. The law, at present, puts a 90-decibel cap on sound-producing firecrackers — which means around 14 firecrackers from a list running far too long can be legitimately burst this Kali Puja and Diwali. But the makers and sellers of these items of ‘festive cheer’ are unhappy with this ‘concession’, and have put pressure on the police and the pollution control board for more leniency. Will the PCB and the police relent? One can never tell. A few weeks ago, the police had won kudos for efficient traffic management during the Durga Puja. But it would be premature to rest assured on that performance. The Calcutta Police is known for its inconsistency, so it may well decide to turn a deaf ear to noise pollution this year. That would mean a pretty pile for unscrupulous traders and a field day for unthinking revellers.

The larger issue around this absurd ‘debate’ over permissible limits of sound pollution has little to do with law. It must be a special kind of mind that finds pleasure in explosive firecrackers — it is a taste not many are privileged to acquire. As high-decibel noise can cause a range of physical distress — from loss of hearing to cardiac arrest — there can be nothing remotely mirthful about raising a din. Those who burst such firecrackers, and those who abet their manufacture and selling, are equally selfish and perverse, responsible for causing health hazards and answerable to those citizens who like to enjoy their festivals in peace. Why should a religious festival anyway be turned into an excuse for unruly behaviour? Why are firecrackers, noisy or silent, so indispensable for the celebration of Kali Puja or Diwali? Firecrackers are made of chemicals that emanate noxious fumes when burnt. This cannot be a good thing for any city. For Calcutta, already choked with vehicular pollution, it is nothing less than lethal.

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