Use of fireworks during Hindu festival adds to dire pollution in New Delhi

Homeless and poor suffer the most as city shrouded in a noxious smog

 A cyclist endures the heavy smog in New Delhi    as the city’s s air quality reached  dangerous levels following  the Diwali festival. Photograph: Harish Tyagi/EPA

A cyclist endures the heavy smog in New Delhi as the city’s s air quality reached dangerous levels following the Diwali festival. Photograph: Harish Tyagi/EPA

 

New Delhi was smothered in a noxious smog on Friday, the morning after Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, after large numbers of residents in India’s capital defied a ban on the use of fireworks.

Visibility in the already polluted city of some 20 million was reduced and many people complained of breathlessness, wheezing and watering eyes due to the toxic atmosphere, rendered worse by firecrackers releasing tonnes of poisonous matter into the air.

The air quality index (AQI) – which measures the concentration of poisonous particulate matter in the atmosphere – surged to 463 on a scale of 500, the highest recorded in 2021.

On the morning after the close of Diwali, thick smog turned daylight into dusk in and around Delhi, with car and building lights only barely penetrating the murk, and the ubiquitous detritus of firecrackers coating the ground.

“This city has become unlivable after Diwali,” said Delhi businessman Sharat Chawla. “It will take several days before the air clears.”

Each year the federal and local governments, and the supreme court, impose a ban on firecrackers, but it’s rarely enforced.

“No country delights more in passing laws and then bypassing them than ours. Today Delhi particularly is facing the consequences of this feature of our lives,” Jairam Ramesh, a lawmaker and a leader of the main opposition Congress Party, said in a Twitter post.

Delhi environment chief Gopal Rai said authorities planned to install 20 anti-smog guns to spray water into the air to help dilute the smog. But there have been calls for more stringent measures such as a temporary ban on construction activities and shutdowns of high-polluting factories.

Pollution from the firecrackers has added to a growing shroud of smoke over Delhi for the past three weeks, as thousands of farmers in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana burn their stubble after the paddy harvest, ahead of planting their wheat crop.

Air purifiers

Environmentalists said the cooling temperatures further trapped pollutants that also included vast quantities of fine dust, sand and cement particles from construction sites, further aggravating the environment.

“It’s terrible for those suffering from asthma and other respiratory ailments,” said Dr Ish Pal Ghai. “There just does not seem to be any relief for them as they continue to suffer.”.

All major city landmarks remained enveloped in a haze on Friday, and many of Delhi’s more affluent citizens had either fled the capital or cocooned themselves inside their homes with expensive air purifiers and air-conditioners, all of which too were in short supply in a city still battling the Covid-19 pandemic.

But the large number of Delhi’s homeless and poor have no option but to sleep on pavements or parks in the contaminated open.

“It’s a hopeless situation and the authorities remain powerless in combating such deadly pollution,” said retired civil servant Amit Cowshish.

“They have simply outsourced the problem to divine intervention, hoping that winds from the northern Himalayan regions will begin blowing soon, and with a bit of luck, mitigate the contamination.”