The festival of Diwali has been identified as a major pollution trigger in New Delhi, the Indian capital. The level of air pollution during Diwali increases significantly, with unregulated consumption of firecrackers and adverse weather conditions contributing to the spike in pollution levels. A report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) showed a rise in injurious gases such as Carbon Monoxide (CO), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Sulphur dioxide (SO2). The report stated, “Particulate concentrations were slightly higher this Diwali as compared to last Diwali (2017). Diwali day data shows that the PM10 and PM2.5 values have increased this year as compared to 2017. However, the data is similar to the data of the Diwali day of 2016 which was observed on 30th October.”
The report also found that the pollutants – PM 2.5 and PM10 - were high as compared to 2017. The PM 2.5 on 2017’s Diwali day was 638 and 496 units at Janakpuri and Parivesh Bhawan, New Delhi while in 2018 the values were 988 and 900 units respectively. The CO levels at Dilshad Garden, New Delhi were 983 units in 2016, 1,423 in 2017 and 1,441 in 2018. At Shadipur, the NO2 levels were 58 units in 2017 as against 94 in 2018.
Post-Diwali, the national capital has been engulfed by toxic smog along with some other northern states. This has become a regular phenomenon for the last few years. A total of ten specific areas were put under the ‘risk area’ with severe air quality and 23 areas were noted to have poor air quality in Delhi. The air quality index hit 469 in different areas of Delhi which was earlier just 299.4, according to the CPCB.
The levels of tiny particulate matter (known as PM 2.5) that can enter the lungs reached as high as 999 micrograms per cubic metre in some areas of the Indian capital after Diwali. The burning of crops in adjoining states also contributes to rising levels of pollution in Delhi. Pollution caused by vehicles is also an additional problem for the National Capital Region (NCR). With the private vehicles contributing to about 40% of the air pollution in Delhi-NCR, the Environment Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) has requested people to decrease the use of private vehicles. The Supreme Court has appointed EPCA as the control head for taking actions in this case. EPCA has suggested that halting construction, use of diesel-run generators, brick kilns and burning of garbage would help to control the situation. Bhure Lal, Chairman, EPCA, informed, “Let us hope that the air pollution situation in Delhi doesn’t deteriorate but if it turns out to be an emergency, we will have to stop the use of private transport. There is a committee which will advise me on this.”
Partha Dey, a resident of Gurugram, “Being a resident of Delhi and now Gurugram for over 18 years, I can say it is not something new. We have been facing this for quite sometime now and during winters, northern India is filled with smog and pollution.”
Schools in the region have also started taking precautions. Multiple schools have started distributing masks while others are organising rallies, campaigns and awareness programmes. Many schools have even extended their Diwali breaks. Vidya Bal Bhawan in Mayur Vihar 3, New Delhi has decided to give out masks to all their students from class three onwards. With the air level index in Delhi-NCR going haywire, it is mostly the students and the daily workers who end up suffering the most. According to estimates from World Health Organisation (WHO), the capital is sixth on the list of the most polluted cities. The Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP), an initiative by the government for emergencies for improving conditions related to pollution has also been launched.