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AQI peaks after Diwali as SC order disappears in spiral of firecracker smoke

twitter-logoPTI | November 8, 2018 | Updated 19:43 IST

(Eds: Combining related stories) New Delhi/Lucknow, Nov 8 (PTI) 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 Supreme Court 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 8pm-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. While some people spoke of maintaining Diwali traditions, others bemoaned the callousness and ignorance of those who continued to burst crackers despite the Supreme Court’s directives. South Delhi resident Sagarika Sharma said she had lost her mother to lung cancer last year. "My mother was not a smoker or drinker, but yes, she was guilty of living in Delhi." Sharma wondered how people failed to understand the repercussions of their actions. "I understand they want to celebrate, but at the cost of digging one’s own grave?" 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 India's most populated state Uttar Pradesh, people in the capital 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. "This smoke is bad for people suffering from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and particularly bad for children," Dr S K Katiyar, respiratory diseases specialist, told PTI. The situation was similar in parts of the West Bengal capital Kolkata, which too recorded “very poor” AQI levels. Questioned about the air quality readings, West Bengal Pollution Control Board chairperson Kalyan Rudra refused to draw any conclusion about the improvement or deterioration in the air pollution during Kali Puja and Diwali. Terming the WBPCB a "toothless tiger", environmentalist Subhas Dutta said the authorities should have been more careful in preventing illegal fireworks and crackers coming from the districts and flooding the city markets. More than 93 people were arrested for bursting firecrackers in the city till midnight on Diwali. The desert state of Rajasthan 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. India's official permissible PM2.5 limit is 60 µgm-3 while PM10 level is 100 µgm-3. For Mumbaikars, it was a noisy Diwali this year. "At some places, noise up to 114.1 decibels was recorded against the permissible limit of 55 decibels in residential areas," Sumaira Abdulali of the NGO Awaaz Foundation told PTI. Abdulali said the Awaaz Foundation's report indicates that all firecrackers tested by it are unsafe for human health and that none of them could be classified as 'green'. As data came in from state after state of alarmingly high pollution levels and the Supreme Court's diktat being violated with impunity, questions cropped up over implementing the ban in a short period. Legal experts said law enforcement agencies must be made accountable for the breaches that can hurt the ambitious efforts to combat pollution. Environmentalist lawyer M C Mehta said the bursting of crackers in Delhi was not due to the failure of the apex court directions but was the "gross failure of the law implementing agencies" as they were not serious in their approach. PTI TEAM MIN MIN

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