The loud noise of bursting fire-crackers at Diwali and other festivals, on auspicious occasions like weddings, during religious and other processions, or even when India wins a cricket match, causes fear and panic in domestic animals, particularly dogs, cats and birds. Their ears and minds are highly sensitive to the bursting of fire-crackers as well as to loud music and gunshots. As per the Environment (Protection) Act, fire-crackers generating noise levels exceeding 125 dB (decibel) impulse noise or 145 dB peak noise, are prohibited. Moreover, the Government of India’s Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules have capped noise levels in residential areas at 55 dB during the day, and 45 dB after dark. Unfortunately, the 10 pm night time deadline to 6 am set by the Police to burst crackers, and not on roads, is violated. (Under the Explosives Act, the Police are the regulatory and licensing authority for fire-crackers.)
In view of the Maharashtra State’s GR order stating that the decibel level should be brought down to 33 dB, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation got an Italian company to conduct noise mapping, following which sound barriers made of steel, plastic and mixed alloys that either absorb noise or deflect it, will be installed in five noise-sensitive spots of Mumbai.
For Diwali 2015 some manufacturers brought out crackers which curbed the noise. However, noise pollution is not the only form of pollution that affects the environment and lives. Bursting crackers can also leave one gasping for breath due to air pollution. Particles smaller than 2.5 microns are the most dangerous since they penetrate the lungs and can also enter the blood stream. It can also cause irritation of eyes, nose and throat, coughing, phlegm and chest tightness in healthy persons and is far worse for those who are prone to allergies.
In November 2016, the Supreme Court directed the Centre to suspend all licences permitting sale of fireworks in NCR and also ordered that no fresh licences/renewal should be given/granted to sell fire-crackers until further orders. This order was immediately challenged by the traders and retailers urging the court to permit the almost 1000 licence holders of fireworks operating in the NCR outside Delhi to carry on with their trade.
Every year hundreds of dogs are injured on the spot of such activity, or lost never ever to be found. An animal or bird need not be absolutely nearby to suffer – deafening loud sudden sounds cause panic in almost every creature in the vicinity.
Dogs hear seven times sharper than humans and certain sound frequencies register forty times louder. In fact, all animals, birds and rodents have much sharper senses than humans.
Dogs tremble in fright and not understanding what is happening, run helter-skelter on the streets losing their sense of direction and even balance. They run further and further away from even those who stop to help them. Their behaviour is panic stricken to the extreme and it is impossible to calm them down, leave alone make them eat or drink any thing. They are in search of a safe place and just when they think they may have found one, another cracker goes off… more fright, more panic and snappy behaviour on the streets follows with them trying to avoid vehicles and people. This results in people getting scared and branding the dogs as rabid… many such lost dogs have met with fatal accidents, or have been beaten and stoned to death by ignorant people. And, last but not least, it’s a nightmare for the family whose dog is lost, or for the person who is feeding it on the street. No doubt an identification tag would help as would a helpline for lost and found animals. Dogs that on hearing loud sounds are prone to running helter-skelter should positively be tagged with a name and phone number.
Bach Flower remedies are known to help dogs cope with the loud frightening sounds of Diwali crackers. Available in pills and drops at some Homeopathy outlets, irrespective of the size of the dog, but depending on how frightened the dog gets, 1, 2 or 3 drops/pills of each of the following should be administered together, with or without water, no more than 3 to 5 times in 24 hours:
• Rescue Remedy
• Star of Bethlehem
In severe cases it is best to begin giving 1 dose per day when Navratri begins and increase gradually – may be 2 doses a day from Dassera onwards depending on the number of crackers expected to be burst in the area.
Another precaution that could be easily taken is to keep dogs indoors but not alone in a room, and make them wear doggie ear-plugs or ear-muffs. Even a scarf would help if suitably tied.
Those who can afford it take their dogs to resorts away from the trauma of firecrackers.
Crackers are also burst during processions which scare the participating animals such as horses, ponies, camels and elephants. Quite often they go berserk and injure people, property and themselves.
• In 2010 at Pune during a temple procession, a 5-year old girl died after being kicked by a horse on her head following crackers being burst.
• In 2010 at a wedding in Meerut an elephant (of the fifteen brought to welcome the baraatis) ran berserk when crackers were burst and gunshots fired as a part of the celebrations. The elephant was chased for 15 hours by over 200 persons during which time he smashed vehicles, blocked roads and finally went into a sugarcane field where he was tranquilised and caught.
• In October 2011 a fire cracker caused a fire at the New Golden Circus on Sion-Trombay Road, Mumbai. Panic and chaos followed, but luckily no human or animal casualties occurred.
• On Independence Day 2012 at Athagarh in Cuttack district of Odisha, a 15-year old boy was gorged to death (and 3 others injured) by a buffalo that charged into a procession beating drums and cymbals – loud sounds no different to bursting crackers.
Such tragic incidents clearly indicate that crackers should never be burst in the vicinity of animals as it adversely affects both humans and animals.
We should make sure that festive gaiety never manifests itself at the expense of innocent animals made to needlessly suffer. People have sadistically lit crackers under a buffalo, oblivious to its agony to provoke it into activity at an annual community festival on the occasion of Gudi Padwa. A string of fire-crackers tied to the tails of animals such as dogs and donkeys and then lit is another form of cruelty that takes place. Deriving pleasure in causing and watching animals suffer is a sign of sadism which in time extends to humans.
On Kali Puja night of 1998, in a village called Peyarapur (near Hoogly’s Sheoraphuli in WB) local youth hurled bombs at 24-year old Dipak Das. He was thus killed because of his intensive crusade against illegal manufacture and bursting of fire-crackers.
Illegal manufacture in WB (and elsewhere) continues. In May 2015 an explosion killed 12 people and 4 were severely injured at an illegal fire cracker factory at Pingla in West Midnapore district.
Hundreds had to run for their lives at Diwali 2016 when a fire broke out at the firecracker market on a ground at Aurangabad. As many as 140 shops and 100 vehicles were gutted and the loss was estimated as well over Rs 10 crore.
Birds get scared of loud noises too. Realizing this, in 2012 the Rajasthan state government declared the area around Keoladeo National Park (formerly the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary and now also known as the Ghana Bird Sanctuary) as a silent zone. This was done to provide a serene habitat to the park’s birds and give protection to migratory birds. Hotels, guest houses, marriage venues, etc. surrounding the park would need to abide by new rules that banned loud noises up to 500 metres around the periphery of the park. Bursting fire-crackers, blowing horns, playing loudspeakers and music through any instrument would draw punishment under sections of the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000.
Ingredients of Crackers and Fireworks
The majority (90%) of fire-crackers sold in India are manufactured at Sivakasi and Virudhunagar in Tamil Nadu where around 1,000 factories exist. (Sivakasi was initially well known for its match and printing industries. The latter is grappling with loss of orders.) Over one lakh children were said to be illegally working as bonded labour in these units, however, Sivakasi is inching towards becoming a zero child labour industrial cluster of TN. The units begin operating every April so enough crackers are manufactured in time for Diwali. Workers are subjected to continuous hazards: general health problems due to handling and inhaling harmful chemicals, and frequent explosions resulting in fires that kill 3-4 persons a month and injure very many more. In September 2012 a blast in one of Sivakasi’s units that spread to 40 odd sheds of the complex killed 38 and injured as many as 70 persons. While this was said to be the worst accident in 20 years, other big fires at Sivakasi in recent years have claimed the lives of 4 persons in December 2011, 5 & 7 (in two incidents) in August 2011, 4 in June 2010, and 11 in July 2009.
By Diwali 2014 Sivakasi’s production fell to 30% and its all-India market share to 60%. Many manufacturers were apprehensive of the future because orders for Diwali 2015 which came in a year in advance were down by 50%. Moreover, nearly Rs 1,000 crore worth of stocks were unsold. They blamed it to the illegal entry and sale of cheap Chinese fire-works containing banned chlorates. (Ironically, in 2000 manufacturers had been to China to learn the tricks of the trade!) Although the Government banned Chinese fire-crackers in 2014, enforcement of the ban particularly by the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) who had powers to identify and punish importers of Chinese fireworks, was not as forthcoming as expected.
In February 2014, at a fireworks factory in Bhaimada village, Alibaug Taluka of Maharahstra, 6 persons were killed, 1 missing, and 20 others injured in a major blaze. A few months later in May 2014 a cracker factory in Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh) caught fire and 15 or the 25 labourers inside died.
In September 2014 due powerful fire-cracker blasts in Sisendi (30 kms from Lucknow) 6 persons were killed. Since Diwali was approaching the crackers had been stored across the road at the owner’s residence where the blast occurred early morning.
A month later in October 2014, an explosion took place at a fire-cracker manufacturing unit on the outskirts of Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh. At least 15 were killed (12 women and 3 men) and several others were seriously injured.
A day or so later, 2 persons, including a 7-year old girl, were also killed and 3 injured, in a cracker factory fire in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district, Champahati area.
And, during Diwali 2014 over 200 shops at Faridabad’s fire-cracker market were gutted due to a massive fire which broke out. Lakhs of rupees were lost, but luckily no casualties were reported.
During the Diwali festive season across India many unauthorised fire-cracker shops and stalls come up where accidental fires often occur. Inadequate fire safety equipment and protection precautions are responsible for the resultant deaths and damages. Earlier it was mandatory for the places to have water storage facility and keep sand at hand, now they are required to keep fire extinguishers.
Diwali crackers and fireworks are basically explosives and often sound like gunfire – the rassi bomb is the loudest with a 145 dB noise level, way above the permissible limit. There are torches, sparklers, confetti, wheels, pots, fountains, shells, balls, rockets, crackers, bombs, missiles, etc. New cracker variations are developed every year: some carry two-stage devices, some have political connotations in their names, yet others are almost as expensive as gold, and so on. In 2016 to boost sales names such as Harry Potter, James Bond and Jennifer Lawrence were given to the crackers while Bollywood stars’ names took a back seat. And believe it or not, kids bought packets of sky shots just because they carried pictures of Daniel Craig (James Bond). They are made up of different chemicals (like nitrate, nitrite, phosphate and sulphate) and metals (some highly toxic ones like cadmium and lead in addition to copper, manganese, zinc, sodium, magnesium and potassium) mixed together and set with materials such as paper or aluminium foil, then dried and packed, ready for sale and igniting.
It is mandatory for manufacturers of fire-crackers to declare on labels, the chemical composition and decibel levels. After Diwali 2010 activists demanded that fire-crackers exceeding the permissible limit of 125 dB (decibels) must be banned and checking should be at the manufacturing stage.
Just before Diwali 2012, PESO tested 846 commonly available sound emitting fire-crackers from 144 manufacturers, and they all exceeded permissible decibel level of 125 dB.
When in 2013 the Pune regional office of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board checked 12 types of fire-crackers, they found 6 violated the prescribed noise levels. Only if strict action is taken against the manufacturers, violations will cease.
At Diwali 2016 none of the 11 fire crackers tested by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board in Pune violated permissible limits. They were also required to give information about the composition of the firecrackers on the boxes.
Interestingly, a month earlier in September 2016 the Chest Research Foundation (CRF) and Pune University’s findings presented at the European Respiratory Society revealed the snake tablet cracker emitted the highest amount of particulate matter (PM 2.5) and although it burnt out in 12 seconds its effects lasted for 3 minutes. The other 5 harmful ones were ladis, pulpuls, fuljhadis, chakris and anaars. It was also stated that apart from particulate matter, gaseous pollution is harmful for lungs, eyes, nose and heart; and the pollutants can worsen asthma, cause allergic diseases of the eyes and nose, respiratory tract infections, pneumonia and heart attacks. A few years earlier the CRF had reported that burning firecrackers during Diwali had produced very high levels of gaseous air pollutants – 200 times the safety limit suggested by the World Health Organisation.
The System of Air Quality Forecast and Research (SAFAR) released its forecast for the festive period accurately saying it was expected to deteriorate during Diwali. Meanwhile, as a preventive measure, the demand for air purifiers continued to rise.
A PIL (Public Interest Litigation) filed by an individual from Sivakasi, and another case by the Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association, came up for hearing at the Madurai High Court in 2014. The Court pulled up the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Central Board of Excises & Customs, and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, for not cracking down on the illegal import of fire-crackers from China despite receiving complaints since 2012. Six hundred containers carrying Chinese fire-crackers were estimated to have entered India unchecked. In desperation the Tamil Nadu Fireworks Industries Workers Protection Association announced a reward ranging from Rs 25,000 to Rs 1 lakh for helping to locate imported fire-crackers from China.
Last but not least, stearic acid (can be of animal or non-animal origin) is an ingredient of fireworks. It is used to coat metal powders such as aluminium and iron in order to prevent oxidation, thus allowing longer storage.
As per the Explosives Act, 2008, District Collectors were entrusted with issuing licences for possession and use of fireworks for public display. Earlier, the explosives controller of the central government was the sole authority who gave permission for fireworks displays at temples and churches.
When in April 2016 there was a deadly blast during a fireworks show at the Puttingal Devi temple in Kerala which caused the death of at least 112, injured over 400 persons and extensively damaged surrounding property, it came to light that the order which quoted the inquiry reports by assistant divisional fire officer, the environmental engineer and the district police chief, clearly denied permission for going ahead with the fireworks on the temple premises, despite which the fireworks were conducted. It also came to light that a prohibited substance, potassium chloride had been used in these fire crackers.
Although 451 people had died in Kerala in accidents related to fireworks during the last three years, the Travancore Devasam board that governs nearly 1,000 temples in the state said it would not accept a ban on fireworks. However, the Kerala High Court banned the display of noise-producing firecrackers between sunset and sunrise across the state.
Earlier, an animal rights group appealed to the Prime Minister who is also the Chairman of the National Board for Wildlife, to stop the use of fire crackers by planters and tribal communities inside forest areas to ward off straying wild animals. Especially elephants get wounded like the one inside Peppara Forest that died of burn wounds in 2014. They suggested that recorded sounds of tiger or bees could be used to scare away wild elephants.
Harmful Light and Sound
Crackers are harmful – to all living beings and for the environment. They are a meaningless cause of noise, air, water and land pollution. Are fire hazards and injurious to those who manufacture, sell and use them.
Air pollution due to crackers causes problems to eyes, throat and nose, results in headaches, respiratory and lung problems (can even restrict breathing), throat and chest congestion, colds, coughs, allergies, asthma, bronchitis, laryngitis, sinusitis and pneumonia.
Noise pollution causes restlessness, anger, fidgetiness, impulsive behaviour (hyperactive or withdrawn), high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, sleep disturbances, and fear; and can easily result in hearing loss.
Loud music is also noise pollution, e.g. during Ganesh festival when it is played late into the night. This festival also causes water, and to some extent air pollution. Eco friendly guidelines are drawn up by the authorities every year but not every one abides by them.
Mother earth (land and water) gets easily polluted due to crackers both during manufacture and after use.
Those particularly distressed and harmed as a result of busting crackers are animals and birds, and persons who are sick, aged, and babies. Humans can at least understand the source of the loud noises, but animals and birds can not, so they suffer much more.
It is commendable that people living in villages around the Vettangudi Bird Sanctuary of Sivaganga district in Tamil Nadu, have for decades been celebrating Diwali without crackers – they don’t even beat a traditional drum as it could scare the birds in the area.
It started over a century ago at Unathur near Thalaivasal and Agraharam Nattamangalam, two villages in Salem district of Tamil Nadu, where Diwali is celebrated without fire-crackers. Thousands of bats live in the area and their well being is much more important than any celebration, to the inhabitants. Since the bats are considered guests, they are not disturbed or troubled in any way, which would happen if fire-crackers were burst.
Interestingly, in 2015 the local government of an Italian town called Collecchio in the province of Parma introduced legislation forcing citizens to use silent fireworks as a way of respecting animals and reducing the stress caused to them. BWC feels it would benefit countless animals, birds, infants and the elderly if this rule is made mandatory all over India.
Children get frequently burnt while playing with fire-crackers and turns out to be fatal for some. Fire Brigades receive many calls during Diwali. A number of these calls are because half-burnt crackers carelessly thrown away in garbage bins have burst out in flames. Another aspect is that during the festival due to crackers there is around 30% increase garbage.
Good, but not Good Enough
While sadistic behaviour of tying strings of crackers on the tails of dogs, donkeys, etc. and igniting them are becoming rare, bursting crackers in the vicinity of animals continue to occur and result in terrible frightening experiences for the animals and birds.
The DNA Mumbai carried a news article on 22 October 2011 titled “NO BANG in cracker sales this DIWALI”. The ASSOCHAM (Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India) survey covering manufacturers at Sivakasi (Tamil Nadu) and dealers and retailers of fire-crackers in major cities of India, found that a greater environmental awareness, rising prices of fire-crackers (30-40% increase over last year) and anti-cracker campaigns had adversely affected sales and demand was likely to fall by 35 to 40% during Diwali 2011. Furthermore, according to ASSOCHAM the Rs 1,200 crore domestic fireworks industry has been in the doldrums since 2009 because of a 15% drop in demand from the northern states which accounted for 75% of total sales. The survey also found a 35% increase in production of fire-crackers aimed to lure the environmentally conscious buyers, claiming that such crackers were not as loud and emitted smoke that was free of harmful chemicals. (Not so bad, but nevertheless, bad.)
The Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) (Amendment) Rules, 2010, under which guidelines the state pollution control boards monitor noise levels in most cities, especially during Diwali, have found that each year pollution is decreasing. Also, the Anti-Noise Pollution Committee and several educational institutions have for years been convincing students and others to take the Diwali Oath not to burst crackers.
Just before Diwali 2014 a petition was filed by an individual in the National Green Tribunal (Pune) seeking a ban on bursting fire-crackers on the grounds that they caused pollution and promoted child labour. It was pointed out that legal restrictions were not implemented so much so that large quantities of Chinese made fire-crackers were illegally imported and sold in India. The NGT was also requested to take action against bursting fire-crackers by supporters of politicians during processions. The resultant order directed action (including seizing of illegal fire-crackers) to be taken against those who stock Chinese fire-crackers and Indian ones such as sutli, rocket and 7-shot bombs that cross the permitted decibel limits.
Again, before Diwali 2015 a petition was filed in the Supreme Court by the advocate fathers of three toddlers seeking a complete ban on crackers to curb pollution beginning with Delhi. This resulted in panic among cracker manufacturers of Sivakasi who approached the Supreme Court saying banning fireworks during Diwali would be against Hindu belief and mythology.
The best news is that health, environmental and animal welfare concerns, as also the fact that money spent on crackers literally goes up in smoke, have resulted in mainly school children and some others taking pledges not to explode fire crackers and their numbers are growing. Added to which, in 2013 two Pune hospitals said that the awareness campaigns were making an impact and Diwali was gradually becoming more of a festival of lights than sounds because with each passing year the number of patients brought to them with severe injuries caused by fire-crackers were decreasing.
In fact, we all need to do our bit in which ever way we can, to stop the manufacture, sale, purchase and particularly, bursting of crackers.