Chitra V. Ramani

Deepavali is a time of stress for those who cannot bear the cracker blasts

Bangalore: Bhanu N. Sharma, a 40-year-old homemaker, needs to use her inhaler at least 20 times a day during the three days when the entire country celebrates Deepavali. She is not alone. There are many like her who are allergic to smoke from firecrackers.

Bangalore is known as the `asthma capital.' The Deepavali celebrations are a time of anxiety to not just asthma patients, but also those with heart ailments, high blood pressure, the elderly and infants. Firecrackers release large quantities of poisonous gases and cause noise pollution too.

Though the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) has prohibited the sale or use of firecrackers exceeding 125 decibels when burst, not many follow the rule.

"Last year, a few youngsters were bursting crackers till midnight, which is against the rule. When we called the local police station to complain, the officer in charge asked us to `adjust.' The main problem is that the rules with regard to the decibel level and the time allowed for bursting crackers are flouted," said Malathi Suryaprakash, a homemaker and entrepreneur.

The loud sound caused by firecrackers has a major impact on young children and infants. "My son had a tough time last year. He was just seven months old then. He did not eat or sleep properly because he was petrified by the sound of bursting crackers," said Anupama B., a teacher.

Plug their ears

Doctors urge mothers to make sure that their children's ears are plugged when firecracker go off. There have been quite a few cases where children have a developed a mild hearing problem because of exposure to high-decibel firecrackers.

According to M.S.J. Nayak, audiologist, Nayak's Hearing Care Clinic, even a brief exposure to loud firecrackers can damage the delicate inner ear. At least two out of 100 people exposed to firecrackers develop some kind of hearing-related problem. People should get their hearing checked if they hear a constant ringing sound or have difficulty in hearing.

Simha, KSPCB chief environment officer, said the police have been urged to monitor the situation and ensure that people follow the rules.

The festival that brings joy to most people is a headache for pourakarmikas employed by the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike. They are the ones who have to clean the streets strewn with the remains of firecrackers. "Deepavali is a bad time for us. There is just too much debris on the streets. With just a few of us working during the festival, it is difficult to ensure that the streets are clean," said Nanjamma, a pourakarmika.

These are the reasons why T.S. Gopalakrishna, a member of the Bangalore Stock Exchange, has decided to promote a cracker-free Deepavali through his Vision Bangalore Movement. "I have been spreading the word by distributing pamphlets. This year, we have taken up Basaveshwaranagar as a pilot project, and next year we plan to cover the whole of Bangalore," he said.

Support for campaign

His `Lets say no to crackers' campaign has received a lot of support. He has also made a 10-minute film on the hazards of bursting firecrackers and has screened it in six schools in Bangalore. "The response to the 20-day-old campaign has been overwhelming. Many people have taken a pledge not to burst any crackers. I appeal to like-minded people to join the movement and work together for a clean and safe Bangalore," he said.