Firework smog chokes Delhi as India celebrates Diwali

Delhi shrouded in smog after Diwali

Invisible India

Air quality had already deteriorated sharply ahead of the main celebration – as this picture of a cluster of temples in the Indian capital shows from a couple of days earlier. As winter approaches, air quality tends to worsen for various reasons, including the burning of crop residues outside the city and increased diesel emissions.

Delhi shrouded in smog after Diwali

Addition to tradition

Diwali is traditionally celebrated by the lighting of lamps, but firecrackers have since become an integral part of the tradition. They’re also used in wedding ceremonies. Explosions often occur in the illegal backyard and underground workshops that make firecrackers for the event. An explosion at a licensed factory in the state of Uttar Pradesh last month killed seven people.

Delhi shrouded in smog after Diwali

Rules go unheeded

Here, one of Delhi's most popular landmarks, the Red Fort, appears in a haze on the day after the main Diwali celebrations. In October, India’s Supreme Court ruled that the use of Diwali fireworks should only take place within a narrow time window and that only "green" fireworks — which give off less soot and smoke — should be used. However, authorities appeared reluctant to enforce the rules.

Delhi shrouded in smog after Diwali

Light over darkness

The five-day festival of lights is principally seen as a Hindu celebration, symbolizing "the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance." In the northern hemisphere, it falls between mid-November and coincides with the new moon, with the main day of celebration being the third day. Diwali is also a time of celebration for Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhists.

Delhi shrouded in smog after Diwali

A family stroll

Some, like this family on the morning after Diwali, choose to wear masks to protect themselves. But the practice is nowhere near as popular in Delhi as it is in other cities affected by smog, such as Beijing. Children are particularly vulnerable. Last month the World Health Organization said exposure to toxic air indoors and out kills some 600,000 children under the age of 15 each year.

Air pollution in the Indian capital has hit hazardous levels after a night of revelry to celebrate the festival of Diwali. Despite a ruling to limit the use of firecrackers, most celebrations went ahead as normal.

Dangerous levels of smog shrouded Delhi and surrounding areas on Thursday after revelers flouted a ban on fireworks — especially firecrackers — to celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali.

Nature and Environment | 01.10.2018

Major monuments in the city, such as India Gate and the Red Fort, were shrouded in a haze of pollution with visibility on major roads reduced to about 50 meters (160 feet).

Air quality readings showed very poor and severe levels which, over a long period, can lead to respiratory illness. The US Embassy in the Delhi — which according to the World Health Organization is the most polluted city on Earth — said its readings touched 526. Readings above 500 in the index, which measures poisonous gases and toxic particulate matter in the air, are typically associated with serious aggravation of the heart and lungs.

Even ahead of the festival, authorities had warned people to stay indoors as much as possible. The period following Diwali last year saw hospitals inundatedwith people suffering the effects of air pollution.

Nature and Environment | 27.11.2017

Ruling largely ignored

India's Supreme Court last month ruled that only firecrackers that emit less smoke and soot could be sold in the city, in an effort to limit pollution over the festival period. It also stipulated that the fireworks could only be set off between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. — a ruling that appeared to go largely ignored.

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DW News | 06.11.2018

Toxic air worries Delhi residents as Diwali draws closer

Activists complained that authorities had not enforced the regulations, amid complaints from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party that the ban was deliberately targeted against Hindu festivals.

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"The Supreme Court order on fireworks was not followed and health warnings from the government were limited to few newspapers and some websites," said Greenpeace campaigner Sunil Dahiya.

Diwali is always one of the worst times of year for air quality, as firework smoke mixes with car exhaust fumes, factory emissions and construction dust. Air pollution worsens in winter anyway, with the burning of crop residue in nearby rural areas, and the use of diesel generators among the factors at play.

rc/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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