air pollution

The Daily Fix: Supreme Court's ban on firecrackers in Delhi reflects failure of pollution board

Everything you need to know for the day (and a little more).

The Supreme Court on Monday extended the suspension on all licences that permit sale of firecrackers in Delhi and surrounding areas to November 1, implicitly effecting a ban on their sale for the upcoming Diwali festival on October 19. Bursting crackers has become an integral part of the celebrations, a reason why the order received sharp responses from the likes of writer Chetan Bhagat, who questioned the court’s impartiality.

Bhagat’s claims were partly sensational and were in the manner of communalising a primarily health and environment issue. After all, bursting firecrackers for Diwali is a fairly recent phenomenon and has very little support in ancient Hindu scriptures. But given the campaign by Hindutva groups in recent years against any attempt to take firecrackers out of Diwali, even Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan was not spared on Monday when he tweeted welcoming the court order. He later took the tweet down following angry responses.

Screen grab: Dr. Harsh Vardhan/Twitter
Screen grab: Dr. Harsh Vardhan/Twitter

However, the Monday order did showcase the court’s inconsistency. It was only in September that the Supreme Court relaxed the ban it originally effected in November 2016. Last month, while lifting the total ban on licences for sale of crackers, the court said:

“Unfortunately, neither is it possible to give an accurate or relative assessment of the contribution of the other identified factors nor the contribution of bursting fireworks to the poor air quality in Delhi and in the NCR. Consequently, a complete ban on the sale of fireworks would be an extreme step that might not be fully warranted by the facts available to us.” 

On Monday, the Supreme Court entertained interlocutory applications from petitioners (three infants) opposing firecrackers, and said having a ban in place between Diwalis and not during the festival may not help test the efficacy of such a move. The court wanted to have one cracker-less Diwali and see what effect it has on the pollution levels.

While under most circumstances a court-ordered ban is never considered the best way of bringing a systemic change, the Supreme Court’s hands were forced in this matter by the utter apathy shown by the Central Pollution Control Board and other governmental agencies in handling this environment and health crisis. While crackers are not the only contributors to the pollution menace in the Capital, it is an indisputable fact that ambient air quality deteriorated by over three times the average levels the morning after Diwali in 2016. And Delhi’s average air quality levels are higher than prescribed limits on most days of the year. This was one of the primary reasons for the suspension of sale licences the Supreme Court brought into force in November last year.

For many years, standards in manufacturing and sale of crackers have been violated with disdain. The court noted in September that fireworks contain many elements which the pollution board has neither studied nor has established any standards for. In fact, in a stunning commentary on the pollution board’s inefficiency, the court showed no trust in its claim that it will set the standards by September 15 and then extended the deadline voluntarily to September 30. It is not clear if the pollution board at least kept to this extended deadline. The court also asked the board to study the effect of firecrackers on health, something it is expected to complete by December 31. On the other hand, those who hold temporary licences for sale of crackers had consistently violated the provisions of the new Explosives Rules which came into effect in 2008. Stunningly, they appeared before the court asking for one more year to adhere to the rules, showing how a law, which contains crucial regulations to avoid major fire accidents, had largely remained only on paper.

While courts have been criticised for assuming the role of the executive and making policies by using special powers given under the Constitution, in matters such as the firecrackers case, the government clearly has itself to blame as it has ceded ground through its inaction. Instances such as these erode the executive’s credibility and make it difficult for the government to resist real judicial overreach.

The Big Scroll

  • The air over North India during 2016 Diwali was the worst in the world – and worse than 2015 too. 
  • How Delhi residentsstarted petitions and protests in an attempt to breathe following last year’s Diwali. 

Punditry

  1. Manish Sabharwal in Indian Express says the relationship between entrepreneurs, banks, bankruptcy is being reworked to end culture of impunity.
  2.   Responsive social and care systems for mental health issues must be pursued relentlessly, writes Vandana Gopikumar in The Hindu. 
  3. Actor Deepika Padukone on why it is important to accept depression than feeling ashamed about it. 

Don’t miss

Rayan Naqash reports on how a Kashmiri boy is fighting for his life after militants target his policeman father.

“The attacker opened fire twice more as he walked towards Khan, hitting him on his arm this time. “I fell to the ground and stayed there, pretending to be dead,” said Khan. “He came closer and opened two more volleys at my legs.”

Khan added: “He thought I was dead so he started moving away. Then, I could not bear the pain and screamed. But he had gone by then.”

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

Play

This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.