|High-decibel firecrackers that were banned in the state even a few days ago are set to rule once again during the coming festive season
The National Green Tribunal has ordered relaxation of the firecracker noise norm in Bengal from 90 decibel at 5 metres from the source to the less stringent central standard of 125 decibel at 4 metres from the source. The green lobby and society at large had hailed the Bengal norm framed in 1997 as a pioneering effort to check noise pollution.
A Metro scan on the impact of the decibel shift and what possibly led to it.
What is the implication on the cracker market?
The relaxation legalises the 100-odd varieties of firecrackers that were under the banned category. All the varieties — chocolate bombs, kalipatkas, dhanipatkas, chain crackers, seven shots, rocket bombs and dodomas — can be manufactured, sold and burst in Bengal.
What will be the possible noise impact?
Huge, say noise experts. During the last few festive seasons, despite the more stringent norm of 90 decibel being in force, the ambient noise level had touched almost 100 decibel because of rampant explosion of firecrackers. The limit of the ambient noise level in residential areas is 55 decibel during the day and 45 at night.
Following the relaxation of the norm the assault on the eardrum will shoot up 3-4 times, fear experts. The effect will be more in multi-storeyed housing estates — many of which are notorious for noise norm violation — because the sound reverberates within close walls and magnify.
Who will suffer?
More than 90 per cent of society, especially the aged and children and those in hospitals where “silent zone” norms are hardly followed. People can suffer total or partial loss of hearing under the impact of cracker bursting. Those suffering from asthma or other respiratory ailments will be more at risk because of the release of toxic substances and particulates in the air by crackers. Cardiac patients, too, will be vulnerable.
Almost every Kali Puja night over the past few years, nurses at the BC Roy Memorial Hospital for Children used to report that children would shiver hearing the sound of crackers, causing saline needles to come off their arms. At Balananda Brahmachari Hospital in Behala, the ambient noise level just outside the ICU had crossed 90 decibel on the night of Kali Puja last year.
Will pets and other animals suffer because of the relaxation of the cracker norms?
Yes, said t2 columnist and veterinarian Goutam Mukherjee. “Animals have the same level of tolerance to sound as humans. What hurts us, hurts them as well. But the impact on them will be more as they are unable to understand the source and start panicking, running about. Many animals even start suffering from convulsions or fits,” said Mukherjee.
He recalled an incident that had occurred when the noise norms were yet to come into effect. “On a Kali Puja night a dog got so scared on hearing the sound of explosion of firecrackers that he ran into a few lit-up pradips and caught fire. He got more scared and ran under a bed with his burns and would not come out even for treatment. It is a mental trauma for them. Now there is a medicine called Melissa which, if given the day before the celebration, helps to calm down the pet and soothes the effect of sounds on them,” Mukherjee added.
Why has the National Green Tribunal allowed the decibel shift?
• Lack of enough scientific reason behind setting a norm stricter than what the Centre has fixed
• The state pollution control board fixed the norm “hurriedly”, without adequate consultation with experts
• The board had exercised its power under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, to fix a norm stricter than the Centre’s but without the mandatory consultation with the central green board.
What was the state’s stand?
The cracker lobby had challenged the state norm in various courts since 1997 but lost every time. The state board had held that it had come up with the 90decibel norm following a Calcutta High Court directive in 1997 based on a recommendation of a committee of the central pollution control board in 1989.
Experts of the state board said their norm had been ratified by a “very high-powered committee” when the Supreme Court had asked the board to find out whether the state and the central norms could be reconciled. “The apex court finally allowed the state norm to stay,” said an expert.
As for the scientific reasons behind its norm, the board had held
• The high population density and lack of open space in Calcutta and elsewhere in Bengal had called for noise rules more stringent than the Centre’s.
• The national ambient noise limit for residential areas (55 decibel during the day and 45 at night) can hardly be achieved with the 125decibel norm.
Why did the state lose the case in the tribunal?
Green activists have alleged that the state government, in collusion with the cracker lobby and a section of leaders of Trinamul as well as the CPM, did not present all the facts before the tribunal. The state has denied the allegation.
What can the state government and the board do now?
Move the Supreme Court against the tribunal’s ruling. On the administrative front, they can again form an expert committee to fix a cracker norm and notify it after consultation with the central board, in accordance with the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
Any silver lining in the tribunal’s order?
The order directed the central pollution control board and the Union environment and forest ministry to make a fresh evaluation of the firecracker menace and fix new rules, if required, within six months. Besides, some experts feel the blanket norm will make monitoring easy.
The tribunal order has made the job of seizing banned crackers easier but policing tougher in certain aspects, said a police officer.
“Earlier, whenever we would stop a consignment of banned fireworks the transporters would show us chalaan saying it was heading for a neighbouring state that followed the central norm of 125 decibel. We did not have the means to verify on the spot whether the chalaan was genuine or not. We had no option but to release the consignment and the crackers would be sold in the city and its adjoining markets,” the officer said.
The police said that this year they would only check whether the firecrackers being sold were on the list of items approved by the state pollution control board.
“We will have to hold a meeting with the board. Once we get the list of fireworks, the cops will be trained,” said Pallab Kanti Ghosh, joint commissioner of police, crime.