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Festival Of Lights ‘Diwali’ Environmentalists Nightmare

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

02 November, 2010

The entire country is reeling under festive spirits of the festival of lights ‘Diwali’ that is going to be celebrated with renewed fervor on November 5, 2010.On this occasion, most member of the house buys new cloths, many houses and shops get a fresh coat of paints, and are well decorated, there is exchange of sweets and gifts among relatives and friends, business clients and partners and last but the least, buying the firecrackers.

This means a huge business for the apparel industry, firecracker, paint and household items and for sweets and gifts. According to an estimate, this year the budget of corporate “gift” alone is expected to touch Rs 3,200 crore, and the sale of firecrackers to Rs 500 crore. Industry sources estimate that India spends over 1000 crore rupees for the celebration of this annual event.

However, what does such a grand celebration mean to the environmentalists. Well there is no happy news, and if the will of the conservators is to prevail, they may like to scale down the celebrations to save the environment from the ill effects of this festival.

Excessive consumerism, high-energy consumption and air pollution through firecrackers, are the three major concerns of the environmentalists. They are campaigning for a green ‘Diwali’ so that the deliberate assault on the Mother Nature is stopped and at the same time, the spirit of the festival is not compromised.

As far as excessive consumerism is concerned, ‘Diwali’ is also a celebration of abundance and wealth - many people believe that it is a good time to buy and spend. Often, people go out and buy new items even when they don't need them. Advertisements and hoardings lure people offerings extravaganza sales, bargains, discounts encouraging buying more and more. All this entails a horde for increased consumerism during ‘Diwali.’

Have we realized the effect of such hyperactive consumerism on the environment? It has to be borne that all man made items are made out of materials that come from nature. Be it plastic, metal, paper or cloths - all of these raw materials are sourced from the nature. Those sources that are non-renewable, such as fossil fuels and metal ores, get depleted and will one day run out. The depletion of non-renewable natural resources is one of the most significant impacts of consumerism.

Another effect of consumerism is the creation of solid-waste, which is non-biodegradable. This has to be buried into holes dug up in the ground, but it is hardly done so, and what is being done is they are simply thrown away out of the homes. These 'landfills' as they are called may exist for centuries without completely integrating into the soil. According to the environmentalists, this is a huge assault on the Mother Nature.

Therefore, it is essential to reduce the amount of things we consume. We need to inculcate the habit to reuse the things we have in different forms until we have absolutely no use for them. We may also learn to recycle items that are no longer functional. We have to rethink the choices we make while buying and refuse things that we do not need at all.

The big question can we control our desires, can we stop the mad race of consumerism. It is just a matter of change of habit and adhering to the simple principles of environmental concerns. The choice is limited and we have to put the breaks on it now if we like to gift the space we live in to our posterity.

High Energy Consumption is another highlight of ‘Diwali’. The festival of lights puts a considerably load on electrical energy sources that are already overloaded. The use of electric lights to adorn homes, business establishments, monuments and roads requires a huge amount of electricity. In a power-starved country, can we afford such huge amount of electrical consumption? This mindless consumption of electricity has huge impact on global warming and to be checked.

The only possible alternative to electric lights is to use the traditional oil lamps for celebrating the festival of lights. Even though the use oil, too have its environmental implications, but since the duration of such lamps is shorter, this can be a possible alternative.

The most harm caused to the environment is due to the lighting of firecrackers, considered the most thrilling element in ‘Diwali’ celebrations. Hardly anyone realize the amount of pollution the temporary joy the firecrackers cause to the prelim of the environment. The toxic substances used in the firecrackers release toxic gases that are harmful to the health of human being, animals, birds, plants and trees.

The high level of noise that the firecrackers generate by cause immense sufferings and the sick and the ailing, literally dread them. Sudden exposure to loud noise could cause hearing loss, high blood pressure, heart attack and sleeping disturbances.

Crackers that make a noise of more than 125 decibels at four meters distance from the point of bursting are banned by the law but hardly any one abide by such a ruling.

More so hardly few realize that very young children mostly make the firecrackers and handle the substance that are extremely toxic; many of these child laborers get sick and die early. This is a matter of huge concern but hardly anyone is bothered about such issues, Even if there are some, their voices drowned under the drumbeat of religious festivities.

However, these are issues of serious concern, and have to be addressed with top priority. There is an urgent need to reinterpret the rituals and traditions of the country to become more sensitive to the environment.

Notwithstanding the fact that there is growing recognition of the impacts of ‘Diwali’ on the environment, the entire nation seems to be going whole hog for the extravagant celebration of the festival. They seem to be consciously being unconscious about the harm they are causing to the environment

The silver linings among the dark clouds is, several groups that have sprung up with ecological sensitive initiatives around ‘Diwali’ but are in a minuscule minority. The day when the people of the country get attached with such initiative and celebrate the festival in an eco-friendly way, it would be a big relief to the environmentalists.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com