Diwali: Cracker ban goes up in smoke as Delhi air quality turns 'very poor'

A 'very poor' air quality index essentially means that people may suffer from respiratory illnesses on a prolonged exposure to such air

Representative image. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Photo: Shutterstock

The festive fervour gripped the nation on Thursday as people celebrated Diwali, often referred to as 'the festival of lights by lighting diyas (earthen lamps), paying obeisance to Goddess Lakshmi, distributing sweets. However, a quiet and promising evening gave way to thick haze and noise as Delhi celebrated Diwali, dashing the hopes of cracker-free festivities, following a Supreme Court ban on the sale of firecrackers in the National Capital Region (NCR).

The cracker-bursting was relatively subdued as compared to previous years. However, the revelers in the adjoining townships of Delhi such as Noida, Gurgaon and Faridabad paid little heed to the apex court's writ and environmentalists' concerns.

Real-time pollution data alarming

The online indicators of the pollution monitoring stations in the city glowed red, indicating a 'very poor' air quality as the volume of ultrafine particulates PM 2.5 and PM 10, which enter the respiratory system and manage to reach the bloodstream, sharply rose from around 7 pm.

At 10 pm, in Mandir Marg in Delhi, the PM 2.5 concentration was 390 units against the prescribed 60 units, while PM 10 was 480 against the prescribed 100.

Real-time pollution data appeared alarming. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee's (DPCC) R K Puram monitoring station recorded PM 2.5 and PM 10 at 878 and 1,179 micrograms per cubic metre at around 11 pm.

However, the nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide concentrations at 50.84 and 31.20 respectively were well under the prescribed limits.

The pollutants had violated the corresponding 24-hour safe limits of 60 and 100 respectively by up to 10 times.

While it is difficult to quantify the immediate effect of the ban on firecrackers, residents across the national capital felt the beginning was promising with neighbourhoods reporting much lesser noise and smoke till about 6 pm, compared to the previous years.

But as the festivities picked up, the faint echo of crackers started growing louder.

According to the SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research), the 24-hour rolling average of PM2.5 and PM10 were 154 and 256 micrograms per cubic metre respectively at around 11 pm.

It has forecast that the pollution levels will peak between 11 pm and 3 am.

The situation was similar, if not worse, in the neighbouring regions of Delhi such as Gurugram, Noida and Ghaziabad, where crackers were burst as usual, raising question marks on the efficacy of the administration in enforcing the apex court's ban.

However, the SAFAR has also predicted a relatively cleaner post-Diwali air due to favourable meteorological conditions, which are helping prevent the smoke-filled air from the agricultural belt of Haryana and Punjab from entering the national capital.

A 'very poor' air quality index (AQI) essentially means that people may suffer from respiratory illnesses on a prolonged exposure to such air. If the air quality dips further, the AQI will turn 'severe', which may trouble even those with sound health conditions and seriously affect those with ailments.

The Supreme Court-appointed Environment Pollution Prevention and Control Authority (EPCA) is empowered to enforce the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) to combat air pollution in Delhi-NCR.

Measures under the GRAP's 'very poor' and 'severe' categories, which include a ban on diesel generator sets, came into effect on October 17 and they will remain in force till March 15.

PM Modi celebrates Diwali with soldiers in Gurez

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offers sweets to jawans on the occasion of Diwali, at Gurez Valley , Jammu and Kashmir. Photo: PTI
Modi offers sweets to jawans on the occasion of Diwali, at Gurez Valley , Jammu and Kashmir. Photo: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi celebrated Diwali with soldiers in Gurez valley of Jammu and Kashmir near the Line of Control (LoC), telling them how he gets energised by spending time with the Armed Forces which he called "my family".

He offered sweets and gifts and exchanged greetings with them, appreciating the sacrifices of armed forces in protecting the country.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath celebrated Diwali at the Tikonia Vantangiya Dalit colony in Gorakhpur. He gifted the children dresses, school bags, sparkling lights (firecrackers) and sweets.

Greeting the people of Uttar Pradesh, Adityanath said that Diwali not only symbolises Lord Ram's return from exile but also the return of good and just times.

In Amritsar, fireworks display and the newly-installed LEDs lighting marked the celebrations of Diwali and "Bandi Chhor Diwas" as thousands of devotees flocked to the Golden Temple complex.

However, the duration of fireworks display was shortened owing to environmental concerns.

How Punjab celebrated Diwali

The Diwali day coincides with the returning of Guru Hargobind to Amritsar after being released along with 52 princes from imprisonment by the Mughal emperor Jahangir from Gwalior prison in 1619.

The guru and the princes arrived in Amritsar during Diwali festivities. Since then, the Bandi Chhor Diwas and Diwali celebrations coincide at the Golden Temple complex.

Elsewhere in Punjab, markets wore a festive look on the occasion of Diwali but traders said sales were down owing to the GST (goods and services tax) introduced recently and the restrictions imposed on the bursting of crackers.

West Bengal celebrates Kali Puja, Diwali

West Bengal plunged into religious fervour with simultaneous Diwali and Kali Puja celebrations. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee greeted people on the twin festivals.

People across the state exchanged sweets and savouries with friends, neighbours and relatives. The festival saw the mingling of a sizeable population of non-Bengali communities (Marwari, Gujarati, Bihari) and Bengalis across the state to celebrate Diwali.

Ululations (high pitched vocal sounds) and peals of bells resonated across temples and residences observing Kali Puja, adding to the festive spirit.

People hit the streets in their best ethnic wears, making way through various marquees and stopping for a bite.

In Odisha, heavy rainfall on Thursday dampened Diwali celebrations and the festive spirit, forcing the people to stay indoors.