The Supreme Court order banning the sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR till November 1 might just be the respite the capital needs.
Going by the current conditions, where the air quality has touched ‘very poor’ in many parts of the city, the situation may spiral out of control if firecrackers are set off indiscriminately during Diwali.
“The ban would ensure that the levels of air pollutants do not reach as high a limit as they did last year around Diwali. With meteorological conditions not being favourable for dispersing dust and particulate matter in a short interval, the regulation is a step in the right direction,” said Ajay Mathur, director general of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) said.
Last year, Delhi witnessed its worst smog in 17 years right after Diwali and air quality turned fouler even after the festival night in the following week.
Although experts welcomed the SC order, they also said there is a need for a sustained long term focus on tackling the menace. “The air of Delhi is anyway saturated with pollutants at this time of the season as paddy stubble burning starts and temperature drops. Delhi needs a sustained long solution for tackling this menace,” said Bhure Lal, chairman of the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA).
According to a report on the composition of firecrackers prepared by the Chest Research Foundation, Pune, firecrackers produce extremely high levels of PM 2.5 over a short period of time. The snake tablet variety of cracker produces a peak pollutant level of 64,850ug/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre). The 24-hour prescribed average of PM 2.5, which are ultrafine pollutants measuring 30 times thinner than a human hair, is 60ug/m3.
An IIT Kanpur study has also pointed out that around Diwali, particulate matter levels nearly double from the average level and organic content of PM increases more than twice.
According to Dipankar Saha, head of Central Pollution Control Board’s air lab, this ban can clean up the air if properly enforced. “This order can bring radical changes. The weather is also good this time. If there is no drastic change in meteorological conditions, Diwali will be a good one this year,” Saha said.
Through a report titled ‘Deepawali Festival Monitoring Report 2016,’ the CPCB revealed how most of Delhi had noise and air pollution problems even on ‘normal days’ but it was seen to spike on Diwali, especially last year.
In 2016, the PM10 level ranged between 203μg/m3 and 318μg/m3 in different parts of the Capital before the festival. The acceptable standards are 100μg/m3. This spiked to over 1,000μg/m3 in areas such as Pitampura and Parivesh Bhavan in east Arjun Nagar on Diwali.
The data shows the situation has been getting worse over the years. In 2014, a normal day’s PM10 levels were recorded between 115μg/m3 and 152μg/m3. This increased from 119μg/m3 to 166μg/m3 in 2015. Similarly, festival day readings in 2014 ranged between 442μg/m3 and 756μg/m3, and 460μg/m3 and 593μg/m3 in 2015.
Environmental activists, however, stressed on citizen’s involvement to make this order a success and make the city less polluted.