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Diwali Celebrations Blanket New Delhi in Dangerously Unhealthy Air

Published: November 5, 2021
People light earthen lamps on the banks of the river Sarayu during Deepotsav celebrations on the eve of the Hindu festival of Diwali in Ayodhya on Nov. 3, 2021. (Image: SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP via Getty Images)

On Nov. 5, New Delhi’s Air Quality Index (AQI) surged to 463 on a scale of 500 marking the most toxic smog of the year after revelers defied a fireworks ban during the annual Hindu festival of lights, Diwali.

Diwali is one of the major festivals celebrated by Hindus.  The festival typically lasts five days and is celebrated during the Hindu lunisolar month Kartika.

This year, following the celebration, New Delhi residents woke up to a stifling amount of air pollution that was categorized as “severe” and created conditions that would affect even the healthiest people. Those with per-existing respiratory diseases are at high risk of serious illness or even death. 

On Friday, the city of nearly 20 million people, registered a PM2.5 reading of 706 micro-grams. The World Health Organization considers anything above an annual average of 5 micro-grams to be unsafe. 

PM2.5 refers to the size of the pollutant in micrometers. An attribute that makes this size of pollutant so dangerous is not only can it penetrate one’s lungs but the particulates are so small that they can even enter someone’s bloodstream. 

A PM2.5 level of 300 plus is considered “hazardous” and can elicit asthma attacks, lowered heart function, reduced lung function, wheezing and coughing, respiratory irritation and shortness of breath. 

The levels of pollution caused by the use of fireworks, turned daylight into dusk in and around the New Delhi region with lights barely penetrating the thick smog.

Sunil Dahiya, an analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) told Reuters, “The firecracker ban didn’t seem to be successful in Delhi, which led to hazardous pollution levels adding on top of existing perennial sources.”

Every year, India’s Supreme Court enacts a ban on firecrackers however the bans appear to be rarely enforced.

A Yogi, going by the handle “Sadhguru” with some 3.7 million followers took to Twitter to express his views on the fireworks ban.

“I have not lit a cracker in quite a few years. But, when I was a child, how much it meant… Let not people who are suddenly environmentally active say, ‘No child should have crackers.’ All those people who are concerned about pollution in the air…You can do one thing as your sacrifice for the children…for that three days, you walk to your office, don’t drive your car. Let children have the fun of bursting crackers.