The choke is on Delhi as fireworks ban defied | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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The choke is on Delhi as fireworks ban defied

By, New Delhi
Nov 14, 2023 09:30 AM IST

By 4pm on Monday, the AQI (a 24-hour average reading) worsened to 358 (very poor), worsening into the severe zone at 10pm, with a reading of 403

The skies rumbled deafeningly, a noxious shroud wrapped itself around the city, and a putrid smell laced the air – Delhi’s residents on Diwali tore to shreds a ban on the use of firecrackers, aided ably by the complete lack of intervention by enforcement authorities, ruining a day that began with unusually blue skies and hurling the city into yet another pollution crisis.

Morning walkers during early morning heavy smog as air pollution rises after Diwali in Dwarka in New Delhi. (Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times)
Morning walkers during early morning heavy smog as air pollution rises after Diwali in Dwarka in New Delhi. (Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times)

This time, the city sounded the death knell for itself. Not farm fires, not adverse weather conditions, not vehicular emissions. This time, Delhi had nobody, and nothing, to blame but itself.

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The city’s unfettered use of fireworks also wiped out a major advantage it has never had in the run-up to Diwali: the city breathed its best Diwali day air in eight years, with an air quality index (AQI) of 218 (poor).

Instead, the smoke from firecrackers on Sunday pushed up PM2.5 (an ultrafine pollutant) levels manyfold, handing the city its biggest-ever pollution spike on Diwali day.

By 4pm on Monday, the AQI (a 24-hour average reading) worsened to 358 (very poor), worsening into the severe zone at 10pm, with a reading of 403.

Sample this: Delhi’s PM2.5 concentration at 4pm on Sunday was 45.6µg/m³, below India’s safe standard of 60µg/m³. However, smoke from firecrackers propelled this value to 550.8µg/m³ at midnight, nearly 10 times above the safe limit.

Delhi has seen its AQI worsen after Diwali every year (except 2022) since the index was introduced in 2016.

Last year, the AQI actually improved from 312 on Diwali day (October 24) to 303 the day after that due to a fortunate spell of rain. In 2021, the AQI spiked from 382 on Diwali day (November 4) to 462 (severe) the day after that. In 2020, it went from 414 on Diwali to 435.

At play this year was a combination of impunity and lax enforcement – residents turned a blind eye to the Delhi government’s ban on crackers (enforced in line with a Supreme Court order), while the Delhi Police turned a blind eye to those violations.

In fact, Delhi Police did not register any cases of violations in seven districts – Rohini, Northwest, Outer, Dwarka, Outer North and New Delhi, even as residents swarmed the streets, bursting firecrackers of all varieties and dragging a pall of smog over the Capital.

Delhi Police spokespersons declined to comment on the matter. Calls and text messages to Delhi Police commissioner Sanjay Arora received no response.

Residents had an assortment of firecrackers at their disposal – phuljhadi (sparklers), chakhri (ground spinners), anaar (flowerpots), rockets, ladi (bomb garlands), skyshots, and so on.

Indeed, every sizzle, crackle or burst on Sunday was the sound of a violation. And these sounds continued well past midnight.

This also reflected in the average decibel levels recorded at Delhi’s 31 noise monitoring stations, with an analysis finding there was an increase in the average decibel levels at 26 of these stations this Diwali compared to last year.

This, despite the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) in October imposing its annual ban on the sale and use of all firecrackers till January 1, 2024. The Supreme Court, too, stepped in on Tuesday, ordering states to comply with its curbs on the use of firecrackers and saying that a celebration by polluting the environment “is selfish”.

Resident welfare bodies themselves complained of blatant violations across neighbourhoods.

Atul Goyal, who heads URJA – the United RWAs Joint Action, a collective body of resident welfare associations in Delhi, said they received complaints from most neighbourhoods over rampant bursting of firecrackers.

“The two most impacted areas — Anand Vihar and Patparganj — are quite close to Noida and Ghaziabad (in Uttar Pradesh), where firecrackers were readily available. Until we ban firecrackers across the NCR, or even beyond, we cannot expect a massive change in the end result,” he said.

DPCC data showed that Anand Vihar in east Delhi experienced the highest hourly PM2.5 spike across the city. Concentrations of this pollutant touched 1,985µg/m3 at midnight – nearly 33 times the Indian safe standard and 132 times the WHO threshold – in an indicator of the sheer quantum of firecracker use.

Patparganj, also in east Delhi, was second with an hourly peak of 1,856µg/m3 at 1am on Monday. This was closely followed by Jahangirpuri in north Delhi, which had a high of 1,792µg/m3.

The national capital went into Diwali breathing unusually clean air, beneath rare blue skies, after showers and strong winds last Thursday and Friday washed the city’s pollutants away.

Till Thursday, Delhi’s air was roiled by relentless smoke from farm fires in Punjab (also governed by the AAP) and Haryana, coupled with still winds and dipping temperatures. But this turned around, with the showers washing away pollutants.

Delhi’s AQI remained on a welcome downward trend for three days till Diwali. It improved from 437 (severe) on Thursday to 279 on Friday, then 220 on Saturday and 218 on Sunday.

Mukesh Khare, professor at IIT Delhi and former expert member in both the Commission for Air Quality Management (CAQM) said bursting of firecrackers negated the city’s air quality gains.

“Vehicles or stubble were no longer sources of PM2.5. The spike was largely all down to firecrackers and the absence of strong winds. These pollutants will now remain present in the lower levels of the atmosphere for a few days,” he said.

And in a predictable re-run, yet another political back-and-forth came in the way of any constructive discourse, with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blaming each other for the toxic air.

“It is unfortunate that despite the Supreme Court order, the BJP is not shouldering its responsibility… This was possible because the police were under the control of the BJP and did not act against violators, not only in Delhi but also in Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana,” said Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai.

Delhi BJP spokesperson Harish Khurana, however, denied the claims and hit back at the AAP government. “The AAP has done nothing to improve the public bus transport system, it has done nothing to check dust pollution, or acted against open biomass burning which together are responsible for the air pollution,” Khurana said.

To be sure, the BJP’s North East Delhi Manoj Tiwari MP appeared to accept the charges that the BJP did not back the firecracker ban.

“The cause of pollution in Delhi is not Diwali firecrackers, but other sources of pollution. But people against sanatana (dharma) blame Diwali firecrackers for pollution. The Arvind Kejriwal government should focus on major sources of pollution such as stubble burning in Punjab, dust pollution, should improve the public bus fleet to reduce pollution,” he said.

Delhi BJP parliamentarian and former Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwari said: “During Diwali, very few firecrackers, and mostly green crackers were used in Delhi...but the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have a problem when people of Sanatana (Dharma) celebrate Diwali with crackers.”

Weather conditions are unlikely to change for the next few days, warned the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

“Winds remained calm throughout Monday at Safdarjung,” said Kuldeep Srivastava, scientist at IMD. “Similar conditions are expected over the next two days too, with calm winds overnight and in the early hours, followed by an average wind speed of 5-6 km/hr in the afternoon,” he added.

The minimum temperature on Monday, meanwhile, dipped to 11.8°C, the lowest yet this year.This is expected to remain around 11-12°C over the next three days, with calm winds at night.

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