By Perez Yeptho, Batch of 2019
“Ya toh cigarete phookh ke dekho yaar,
Ya chale jao Delhi-NCR”
Delhi is the Poster Boy of the spectacular failure on part of all Indians to be able to curb and reverse the cancer (for real, it’s cancer!) that is urban air pollution. This Diwali, PM2.5 masks could be found in houses almost as abundant as Soan Papdis or Kaju Barfis. Let us look at why prayers and hymns are playing second fiddle to coughs and wheezing in this festive season and how pollution has become more a topic of concern for us Delhites than Diwali celebrations.
Last year, the National Green Tribunal had made the landmark (and rather courageous and very optimistic) decision of preventing sales of firecrackers in the Delhi-NCR region, owing to the exceptionally high level of air pollution in the region. And not surprisingly, this decision was met with resistance and hate from common citizens, politicians and religious leaders alike, with the NGT being accused of trying to destroy the essence of Diwali. And with this resistance came out the “Rok ke dikha” attitude that Delhi is proud to wear and stereotypically known for (I wonder why…), and Delhi saw the sale of fireworks in black, in white and rather in all the colours of shameless disobedience. But still, the NGT, the Government of Delhi and the Supreme Court did notice the tiny drop in the level of pollution with the partially successful cracker ban in 2017, convincing policymakers to repeat the action more successfully in 2018.
The Supreme Court Verdict
And so, this year, the Supreme Court, feeling Delhi’s plight, decided to take her under their wing and made another landmark decision to prevent the sale and use of fireworks (with certain allowances), especially in Delhi-NCR.
- The Supreme Court made it difficult for sellers to obtain permits to sell fireworks in Delhi-NCR,
- Set up a time period from 8 PM to 10 PM only within which people were allowed to burst crackers,
- Banned the sale of loud crackers and highly polluting crackers, and
- Mandated that all sellers sell only “Green Crackers” which emitted less harmful toxins as compared to an average cracker of the same mass and design.
And this move, again this year, was met with resistance and hate from the common citizenry and the religious propaganda-ists. But this year the Police in Delhi was much more active, working tirelessly trying to seize illegal firecrackers, arrests were made for trying to sell without a permit and for lighting them out of the time-frame stipulated by the apex court.
Air Quality on Wednesday, 7th November, 11 pm
Air Quality on Thursday, 8th November 2018, 8 pm
While for the most part people followed the rules, there were still ignorant pockets of people who started bursting crackers up to an hour and a half before and after the time period. It was not uncommon to hear individual crackers post-midnight either. But for the most part, ‘green crackers’ seem to be absent from the arsenal of the revellers this year, perhaps next year the market will be more prepared to accommodate such regulations.
Dogs and other pet animals were clearly affected this year just as badly, with many concerned citizens (such as I) taking care of the local street dogs by feeding them and standing by them. Many humans were also affected with pain in the eyes, nose and throat, indicative of high levels of toxic gases such as Sulphur Dioxide.
This Diwali seemed no different from the ones preceding it.
Early morning commuters witnessed a smog-covered Delhi skyline in the early hours of the day after Diwali.
(In Image: A cyclist travels through central Delhi on a hazy morning)
Yesterday, almost immediately as the clock struck 8 pm, the pollution levels rose to very dangerous levels all across Delhi, while at midnight, the levels of PM2.5 and PM10 were seen to be touching 999 at every government-operated Air Quality Monitoring Station (one of which can be seen in our own Nescii Grounds), which is especially concerning since 999 is the theoretical limit that can be measured by today’s instruments. In general, the air quality level was extremely hazardous for breathing all across Delhi-NCR in the hours post Diwali-celebrations. This data can still be viewed on this website. So were all the efforts in vain?
In these photos, if one compares the pollution levels for 11:59 pm 7th November and 11:59 pm 6th November the pollution is almost twenty times greater.
The government noted that the time-frame of 8 to 10 pm which was defined by the court was more or less followed by the people and the government also ordered action the next morning to deal with rising levels of pollution by using water sprayer trucks which seemed to help. This can be seen with the rapid drop in the pollution levels as soon as it was midday, 8th November 2018. The level of pollution was back to ‘normal’ in our gas chamber-esque city. But the fact that there was no residual smog reminiscent of November 2016 or 2017 is indicative that the measure definitely worked and was a step in the right direction.
Simple statistical data shows that due to lesser fireworks being burnt and for smaller amounts of time, along with fast action from the side of the authorities helped bring down the effects of mass atrocities on the environment. However, the prolonged exposure of the entire city to AQI levels above 999 for even a single night is equivalent to around 150 cigarettes being smoked by the average Delhite in that night, which in no way is an acceptable compromise.
It is imperative that we continue to not only increase awareness of the issue and convince our more thick-headed colleagues to give up their harmful habits, but we must also find new measures to reduce pollution in the city further and with reduced crop burning, new metro lines, revamped DTC corridors and common sense anti-emissions policies being implemented, let us hope this new year is a bit cleaner for our city, else one fateful Diwali, Ram might come home to find most of Ayodhaya dead or abandoned.
Wishing everyone a Happy (and healthy Diwali),
Note: As the article is being written (9 pm, 8th November 2018) there are still firecrackers being burst around South and South-West Delhi, the pollution levels are rising again. The author is currently experiencing a headache, no doubt due to the pollution, and is wearing a pollution mask indoors.