A day after Diwali, many parts of the country were shrouded in haze on Thursday as pollution levels spiked to dangerous levels with several people celebrating the festival of lights with sound and lots of smoke in defiance of the Supreme Court two-hour limit for bursting firecrackers. There was anguish and searching questions on the yawning gap between the law and its enforcement as the sun struggled to shine through murky skies, particularly in the Delhi-NCR region, which recorded its worst air quality of the year.
Pollution levels in the national capital and its surrounding areas entered the “severe-plus emergency” category due to a toxic mix of firecrackers, farm fires in neighbouring states and local weather conditions, authorities said.
The SC had permitted the sale and manufacture of low emission “green” firecrackers countrywide and fixed a two-hour period for bursting them.
In gross violation of the order, however, people burst firecrackers until at least midnight, two hours after the 8 pm-10 pm deadline, and even Thursday morning.
Loud bangs rent the air in New Delhi, where the air quality index (AQI) literally went off the charts at 642, several times over the permissible limit, according to data by the Centre-run SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research). This means that even healthy people may suffer from respiratory illnesses on a prolonged exposure to such air.
In 2017, the AQI post Diwali was recorded at 367.
An AQI between 0 and 50 is considered “good,” 51 and 100 “satisfactory,” 101 and 200 “moderate,” 201 and 300 “poor,” 301 and 400 “very poor,” and 401 and 500 “severe.” AQI above 500 falls in the “severe-plus emergency” category. AQI is the combined impact of different pollutants, including PM
(particulate matter) 10, PM 2.5, nitrogen and sulphur oxides and ozone.
Violations were also recorded in Mumbai, Kolkata, Jaipur, Chandigarh and other cities.
Delhi's air quality is expected to remain in the “severe” category over the next two days as the smoke emitted by firecrackers has slowed down the process of pollutant dispersion, a SAFAR report said.
The dystopian scenario was replicated elsewhere. In Uttar Pradesh, people in Lucknow and other key cities burst firecrackers well past midnight, resulting in “very poor” AQI. A thick blanket of smoke was noticed over the state capital and its neighbouring districts as a result of rampant burning of firecrackers. The situation was similar in parts Kolkata, which too recorded “very poor” AQI levels. More than 93 people were arrested for bursting firecrackers in the city till midnight on Diwali.
Rajasthan too faced a similar situation. According to the Rajasthan State Pollution Control Board, the PM 2.5 and PM 10 parameters at one centre in Jaipur were 330 and 205, respectively. Smaller towns like Kota and Ajmer fared no better.