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To burst or not to burst? Himanta Biswa Sarma contradicts PCB ban on firecrackers

The contrast of remarks between the PCB and the health minister created fresh confusion

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GUWAHATI: Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma once again stirred a fresh controversy as he contradicted the state’s Pollution Control Board (PCB) while it came to bursting firecrackers during the Diwali celebration.

While the PCB on Tuesday ordered a blanket ban on the sale and use of firecrackers in the capital city of Guwahati and restricted bursting of firecrackers in the rest of the state, the minister in a social media post rather seemed to be ‘encouraging’ bursting of firecrackers.

Hours after the PCB has issued the order asking the district police and administration to ensure the ban and restriction on bursting firecrackers to check on the growing air pollution and health hazards owing to the Covid 19 pandemic situation, Sarma took it to Twitter and said: “Like any other religion, Hindus have the right to celebrate festivals. With improvement in #COVID19 situation in Assam, we plan no restrictions on celebration of #Diwali including use of #Firecrackers. However, kindly remember, self-restraint is key to combat #COVID19.”

On the other hand, while issuing the ban on the use of firecrackers, the PCB order had said that the bursting of firecrackers releases a copious amount of harmful chemicals, which have a severe impact on the respiratory health of vulnerable groups and such pollutants can further aggravate health conditions of COVID-19 positives persons besides person staying in home isolation.

The PCB even went ahead and also restricted bursting firecrackers in other parts of the state and said that except for Guwahati, only green crackers could be sold and bursting would be allowed only for two hours during Diwali from 8 pm to 10 pm. During Chhath Puja, firecrackers will be allowed from 6 am to 8 am and during Christmas and New Year’s Eve from 11:55 pm to 12:30 am, it said.

The contrast of remarks between the PCB and the health minister created fresh confusion. Sarma was also criticized and accused of communalizing the festival of Diwali.

Assam’s leader of the Opposition Debabrata Saikia replying to Sarma’s tweet wrote: “But according to a study by Harvard School of Public health people with a high level of air pollution are more likely to die from Covid disease. So, please take steps by going for green Diwali celebrations and save lives. Should advise all to follow PCBA guidelines.”

Another tweeter user with the name Hardik_Baruah wrote: “Sir sorry, first time I am against your decision please ban firecrackers, the pollution and cases in our area are increasing and it’s affecting the lungs too, as many people are not going for testing just remaining in house only.”

“Also FYI Diwali is all about Lord Ram returning and us lighting up our homes and worshipping Lakshmi, Kali and other respective Gods and Goddesses. In no holy book is it mentioned that firecrackers are part of a Hindu ritual. Stop making everything communal for God’s sake!,” another tweeter user Indrani added.