Hopes of a cleaner Diwali were dashed in the national capital region as a part of the citizenry openly flouted the Supreme Court’s orders limiting the bursting of noxious firecrackers

Smoggy conditions at Naini Lake in Model Town in north Delhi. Firecrackers were burst past midnight despite court orders (Photo by Amit Bhattacharya)

Smoggy conditions at Naini Lake in Model Town in north Delhi. Firecrackers were burst past midnight despite court orders (Photo by Amit Bhattacharya)

The air around the national capital region turned hazardous as many people burst firecrackers till the wee hours during Diwali on Wednesday, disregarding a Supreme Court order and dashing hopes of a cleaner celebration of the festival of lights.

Although there seemed to be a lessened bursting of firecrackers compared with previous years and the fact that the night before Diwali was a quiet one, which brought hope for cleaner celebrations, when it came to Diwali night, all the regulations laid out by the Supreme Court went up in the smoke.

The air quality index (AQI) was above 350 during most of the week before Diwali. Air quality is considered good only up to a reading of 50. The overall AQI for Delhi rose to an alarmingly 600 on Thursday, according to by SAFAR-India, the air quality tracker of the Ministry of Earth Sciences. This plunged the air pollution level to the severe category in the capital city.

However, the AQI according to the World Air Quality Index, a global project that tracks air quality in more than 80 countries, AQI in several parts of the national capital exceeded 999 on Diwali night, which is considered extremely hazardous. The lower reading of SAFAR was perhaps because it provides an average over a particular day instead of frequent updates. On Friday, the global tracker showed AQI to be over 400 in most parts of the city at noon.

It was illegal to burst any kind of firecrackers, as according to the apex court, only so-called green crackers, the ones with reduced emissions of toxic substances and lower noise level, were allowed. But none of these firecrackers were available in the market, as the court had noted.

Deadline flouted

There was also a deadline of bursting crackers only between eight to 10 pm, but this order of the Supreme Court was clearly flouted. One could hear firecrackers right from 6 pm to beyond 2 am in the morning. The ban didn’t stop people from proudly posting live feeds on Instagram of their revelry after midnight. No individual celebrations were converted into community festivity, despite the court’s order.

The result of this was a blanket of smog that was full of toxic polluting gases. It forced many to shut their doors and windows while others complained of smarting eyes and irritation in throats on social media.

Aparna Balachandran, a professor in History Department of Delhi University who lives in Model Town, said it was an awful experience for her. “I don’t know how it was in south Delhi, but here in North Delhi it was just terrible. Crackers began at 8 pm and by 9 pm I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “I was so hopeful this time because it felt there were hardly any firecrackers the night before Diwali, but it turned out to be awful on Diwali night.” It was an irresponsible behaviour on the part of those who burst firecrackers despite the Supreme Court’s order, she said.

Off the charts

Hours after firecracker noise and smoke flooded the atmosphere, AQI shot up to an alarming 999 at places like Anand Vihar in east Delhi and near India Gate in central Delhi. It needs to be noted that that AQI could have been even worse as air monitoring systems can mostly record AQI in three digits only.

Various news reports mentioned that the levels of dangerous PM2.5 and PM10 particles that can enter bloodstream and cause cardiorespiratory problems rose to emergency levels. At Jahnagipuri in northwest Delhi, the PM2.5 touched over 4,500 micrograms per cubic metre, as opposed to the permissible limit of 60 micrograms per cubic metre, as observed from Delhi Pollution Control Committee live monitoring.

“Firecrackers were not being sold anywhere, so where did these crackers come from?” questioned Padmavati Dwivedi, a Delhi-based environmental activist. One possibility could be that Noida and Ghaziabad district authorities made the sale of firecrackers legal despite court’s order, which could have made it easy for people to buy crackers being sold in such close proximity.

Dwivedi however noted that in south Delhi, where she resides, things were better. “It was a pleasant Diwali in our area. There were few rows like mine in Sarvodaya Enclave where not a single cracker has been burnt. This is a result of media and raising awareness and concern especially among school children and their parents,” Dwivedi said. There should be a “total ban by the Supreme Court from next year,” she said.

Limited restraint

In Defence Colony in south Delhi, due to active campaigns like “No to Crackers” and “#SupportyourSHOthisdiwali” by citizens and police, there were negligible crackers. Bhavreen Kandhari, a resident of Defence Colony and an ardent supporter of My Right to Breathe campaign, appreciated the positive results in her locality, but observing the overall pollution across Delhi, she said that much more is desired.

“Most of Delhi was on a suicide mission, as we all saw. Surely if one colony (like Defence Colony) can work, others can too. The enforcement authorities were not serious. Even if 5-10 violators of each area were booked in contempt of court, the rest, I assure you, would have backed off,” said Kandhari.

Kandhari, along with other citizens, are filing complaints against lack of implementation of the court’s order in other areas. “The police must take action. Otherwise they will be charged for contempt,” she said.

Arvind Sharma, officer-in-charge of the Defence Colony police station, arrested two persons for contempt of court’s order and fined one for bursting crackers. He, like many other police officers, played a proactive role for a cleaner Diwali.

The demographic of each colony is different and presents unique challenges, he said. “For instance, in my area, citizens in Defence Colony were very proactive. They are residents who are living for years so neighbours know each other and supported each other for the common cause, but that is not the case everywhere,” said Sharma.

He also highlighted prevalent misconceptions among people regarding green crackers. “There was someone who showed us that one firecracker (the noisiest of the lot) was ‘green’ just because it was green in colour. People were even asking where to buy green crackers. So we spent a lot of time communicating to people that it is illegal to burst any firecracker as no cracker available is green.”

While anti-firecracker campaign was successful in certain pockets of Delhi, given that the overall air quality turned extremely hazardous for health, more stringent enforcement, and more importantly, more responsible behaviour from citizens is required to stop Delhi from becoming a gas chamber every Diwali.

 

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