Delhi's Severe Air Pollution During Diwali Due to Blatant Disregard to Cracker Ban: Experts

Experts felt that a lack of understanding about how to celebrate green Diwali is one of the biggest reasons behind it as people think the festival and firecrackers are synonymous.

A blatant disregard to the ban on firecrackers led to severe air pollution in the national capital during the Diwali week, experts said on Friday as Delhiites witnessed choking levels of pollution. Experts felt that a lack of understanding about how to celebrate green Diwali is one of the biggest reasons behind it as people think the festival and firecrackers are synonymous.

Kamal Narayan, CEO of Integrated Health and Wellbeing Council, said, "Delhiites woke up to a severe air quality this morning due to blatant disregard to the Delhi government's ban on firecrackers. People burst firecrackers across Delhi on Diwali and this contributed to the already poor quality of air in the national capital." "Many people do not care about air pollution and think that there is no Diwali without firecrackers. This thinking has to be changed and the state government also needs to step up its efforts to curb the use or selling of firecrackers, Narayan said. Sharing a similar view, Ravindra Khaiwal, Professor of Environment, PGI Chandigarh, said banning firecrackers is one thing but bringing in behavioral change requires a sustained effort.

"People think banning firecrackers reduces their joy. But we need to understand that Diwali is more than that. The Supreme Court recently banned it but there is a lack of proper understanding among people on how to celebrate green Diwali. We have created a booklet in which we have explained it," Khaiwal said. Ahead of the festival season, the Delhi government had announced a complete ban on crackers till January 1, 2022 and ran an aggressive campaign against the sale and use of crackers.

Narayan also said that the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns has allowed the illegal selling of firecrackers but people have to be made aware that air pollution is another kind of pandemic that is severely affecting the health of many people on a daily basis. He said that Delhi's neighbouring states are playing a big role in making the banned items available in the national capital.

"While we can raise questions on law enforcement, Delhi's porous borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh also make it easier for people to get access to these banned items. Checking every individual at the border is a tedious task, but keeping a vigil on new players is possible through intelligence inputs or manual checking," he said. Experts, however, said that other important factors causing pollution during this season cannot be ignored.

"Eighty per cent of the pollution depends on meteorology, atmospheric reactivity and emissions from vehicles, etc. Crop residue burning and firecrackers contribute 20 per cent of this pollution. We should reduce our base causes first, Narayan said. Mahesh Palawat, VP-Meteorology and Climate Change, Skymet Weather, blamed the drop in temperature as well as wind speed for the increased pollution in the city.

"Had the peak of stubble burning been witnessed in October, the impact would have been less over Delhi-NCR. Neither the wind speed would have been slow nor the temperatures were so down. However, November is a changeover month from spring to winters, wherein we would see drop in temperatures as well as wind speed. This coupled with early arrival of winters seems to set up a stage for unhealthy air quality days for the national capital, Palawat said.

The Supreme Court had recently said that there was no total ban on the use of firecrackers but only fireworks with barium salts were prohibited. Fireworks with barium compounds produce more smoke when they burn. They essentially burn in bright green or white colours.

The SC had said that citizens cannot burst firecrackers indiscriminately, hurting the right to health of others guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. Nobody can be permitted to play with the life of others, more particularly the senior citizens and the children, it had said, adding that failure to implement the order will be viewed seriously.

Environmentalist Bhavreen Kandhari was of the view that if the apex court displays dalliance and swings between completely ban to partial ban to green crackers, what kind of a message is being sent out. It's all about communicating resolve. Further, Delhi government is treading on eggshells when it comes to so called 'sentiment', and is floating down the river in two boats, one leg in each boat. The message that goes out- we'll turn a blind eye to your transgression. People pick on such sound-bytes and act accordingly. Therefore, the ineffective ban, she said.

Residents in many parts of Delhi-NCR woke up with an itchy throat and watery eyes as a thick layer of acrid smog engulfed the region on Friday following rampant crackers bursting on Diwali night amid a rapid increase in fumes from stubble burning.