Cracker manufacturers are straining at the leash to wake up the sleeping decibel devil this Diwali with central minister Saugata Roy petitioning Delhi for a 35dB increase in the noise limit ratified by Calcutta High Court.
Roy, one of the six Trinamul Congress ministers of state in the UPA government, wrote to his environment ministry counterpart Jairam Ramesh last month, requesting him to bring the state’s Diwali noise limit down to match the national standard.
“I wrote to the central environment ministry (on September 13) regarding the discrepancy in the cracker noise limits under central law and those enforced in Bengal. However, I have not received any response from the ministry so far,” he told Metro.
But why the eagerness to bring back the cracker cacophony that the court had sought to rid Calcutta of with its landmark order in 1997?
Minister Roy insisted that a slight increase in the cracker noise limit for Kali Puja and Diwali would not hurt the eardrums as much as it would benefit hundreds of cracker manufacturers, distributors and retailers whose livelihood was at stake.
Sujan Chakrabarty of the CPM, a former MP from South 24-Parganas and the party’s current district chairman, had used the same logic last year to pressure the state environment department into giving permission to manufacture crackers that make noise above 90dB for sale in other states.
According to experts monitoring noise limits, the bulk of the banned crackers were blown up in Bengal rather than sold outside the state.
Chakrabarty shrugged off responsibility for the blatant violation of noise norms, saying he had “no idea” about crackers manufacturers selling most of their products within the state. “If banned crackers did infiltrate the local markets, then it was the responsibility of the administration to catch the offenders,” he said.
Till politics reduced the decibel norms to a sham, Bengal was the national role model in noise control with Diwali in the city being the quietest among all metropolises. The national decibel standard for a cracker is a maximum of 125dB from within four metres of where it is ignited. In Bengal, it is 90dB within five metres of the spot.
The difference between the Bengal standard and the central norms, fixed in 2000, has been debated in both the high court and the Supreme Court.
“The gap between the state and central standards has been questioned in the apex court at least on three occasions, most recently around a month ago. But the court has supported our stand each time. We will stick to the standard of 90dB in Bengal to give citizens a respite from noise pollution,” said Biswajit Mukherjee, the chief law officer of the State Pollution Control Board and member secretary of the noise monitoring committee.
Police commissioner Gautam Mohan Chakrabarti said Lalbazar would also strictly monitor decibel levels during Diwali and arrest those who violate the law.
“Banned crackers enter the retail market from other districts and states and we are keeping an eye on these routes. We have written to manufacturers in Sivakasi (in Tamil Nadu) to ensure that they do not supply banned firecrackers to retailers in the city this year,” the police chief said.
But are the deterrents strong enough to prevent potential violators from having a blast this Diwali? “There have been fewer raids on illegal cracker factories and distributors than previous years. The quantity of crackers seized so far is also negligible. Brace yourself for one of the noisiest Diwalis in recent memory,” warned a green activist.
A pollution control board official admitted that not many banned crackers were found during the raids so far. The number of arrests for illegal manufacture or sale of crackers till last week was six.
Additional chief secretary K.S. Rajendra Kumar, who is also the environment secretary, had expressed dissatisfaction over the progress of the campaign against banned crackers during a recent meeting of the noise monitoring committee.
CRACK AT LAW
Bengal cracker limit: 90dB within five metres of the spot
Took effect in: 1997
Central cracker limit: 125dB within four metres of the spot
Took effect in: 2000
Cracker manufacturers want: Union environment ministry to establish parity