In a season of insane bans inspired by bigotry and intolerance, the most sane idea has come from infants.

Three Delhi-based infants have moved the Supreme Court through their father for a ban on bursting of crackers this Dusshera and Diwali. Arguing that the pollution created by crackers harms their under-developed lungs, the infants have sought a series of remedies for improving air quality.

Supreme Court of India. ReutersSupreme Court of India. Reuters

Supreme Court of India. Reuters

Unless you are naive enough to link crackers with Indian culture and traditions, or find some convoluted argument to see the plea as part of a conspiracy against Hindu festivals, there is very little to disagree with the concerns of the infants and their parents.

In Delhi, the emission levels are highest in the world. In September, the National Air Quality Index in September continuously registered levels above 300 for particulate matters that pollute the air. Such high levels — between 301 and 400 — mean the air quality is poor and continuous exposure can lead to a variety of illnesses.

With the onset of winter, when the air turns cool and moist, pollutants hang low and become stagnant. During this period the some of the particulate matter exceeds 1500 micrograms per cubic metre, nearly 15 times more than the standard limit for healthy conditions.

It is a no-brainer that crackers laden with hazardous chemicals that emit poisonous gases turn Delhi into a gas chamber. Add to this the noise pollution, environmental waste, risk of burn injuries and major fires, and exploitation of child labour in the industry, we should have been proactively debating a stringent ban on crackers by now. Unfortunately, we have made a habit of ignoring real issues that affect our lives — pollution, epidemics, inflation, failure of the health and education system–and wasting time on unproductive debates and campaigns.

Bursting crackers was never part of the tradition. Deepavali (Deep: lamps; Avali: rows) was always meant to be a festival of lights on the dark amavasya night of Kartika month of Indian calendar. While most of us believe the lamps are lit to celebrate the return of Lord Rama from exile (or the killing of demon Narkasura by Krishna), there is also some scientific logic behind it.

Indians believe that since the Diwali season is preceded by the monsoon, the fire element in the environment diminishes due to the cloud cover. The lighting of lamps was traditionally meant to compensate for the lower level of tej tattva. Crackers were a late addition to the celebration, initially perhaps just as sources of more light. Their controlled use may have helped the environment by killing monsoon insects and flies. But, now it has all gone out of hand with bursting of hazardous crackers turning into a mindless show of ostentation.

In the petition on behalf of the infants, their parents have rightly argued that the pollutants from crackers violate their right to clean air guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution and lead to asthma attacks, diminished lung capacity and various other diseases.

In the past, various governments have tried to curb the menace of post-Diwali pollution. There have been efforts to create awareness through campaigns in schools and curb the use of crackers by imposing a time limit. Some years ago the Supreme Court had stepped and imposed a complete ban between 10 pm and 6 am. But, several studies have shown none of this has worked because both the government and citizens have been blasé about implementing the measures.

The latest petition by Delhi infants gives us another opportunity to look at crackers for what they are: a health hazard. Puerile debates on banning meat, eggs, alcohol, porn sites, books, films and other forms of expression can wait. We can start showing some maturity by listening to what the children of Delhi are saying: the air around us is killing everybody, without differentiating between the lungs of Hindus, Muslims, Jains, vegetarians and beef-eaters.

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Forget bans on porn, alcohol: We need to take infants’ plea in SC for ban on crackers seriously