Delhi government recently in official notification banned firework and use of fire crackers in Delhi, to curb the air pollution. But the ban sees no effect on Delhi’s Fire-cracker demand and supply, as the smugglers have already found the safe ways to meet the demand.
This Diwali, authorities in the Indian capital are enforcing the city’s strictest ban on fireworks to date, after years of efforts to discourage their use during the major Hindu holy festival have failed.
The air pollution level in Delhi has been fine in last few years but it sees a sudden rise in pollution levels on the occasion of Diwali.
Monday is the main day of this year’s Diwali holiday and a public holiday across India, and forecasters warn that despite a ban on fireworks, air quality will dip into the “very poor” category from Sunday – air that could be dangerous. to the health of anyone with long-term exposure, but especially in young people, the elderly, and people with lung and heart disease.
In fact, Delhi’s air quality has yet to reach the dire levels that residents expect by the end of October. Dr. Sitting in his office at the India Meteorological Department in the heart of Delhi, VK Soni explains that this is due to weather conditions, not government action – the wind is moving east, which means pollutants from the north Indian plains are blown towards the Arabs. The sea, rather than floating around Delhi.
But that brings only temporary respite, he warns, with the blue sky visible through his small window soon turning to a hazy orange color that will remain for the next few months.
Although Diwali fireworks can often be blamed for the smoggy winters that make Delhi the most polluted capital in the world, there are actually a large number of factors that cause air quality to drop and remain low for so long. At this time of year, road traffic increases, farmers in neighboring agrarian states burn stubble, and cooler, calmer weather conditions set in.
“Delhisans should brace themselves for extremely unhealthy air conditions starting Sunday evening due to a spike in vehicular emissions and traffic jams choking the streets as thousands of people throng the city for the festive season,” says Dr Soni.
Fireworks – here called firecrackers – may only be a cause of air pollution, but their use has certainly contributed to the decline in AQI in recent years. Despite previous efforts to ban crackers or, in earlier years, require the use of only so-called “green” fireworks with lower emissions, Diwali night has always been accompanied by itchy throats, watery eyes and a metallic taste in the mouth.
This year, the Delhi administration warned that those caught selling fireworks face heavy fines and jail time, with the strictest ban on the sale, purchase and trade of firecrackers brought in weeks before the festival in September. There were also public awareness campaigns and brands ran ads encouraging people to celebrate Diwali in other, less polluting ways.
Still, there are still many Hindus who see fireworks as an important part of the festival, and plenty of locals and traders are willing to risk flouting the restrictions.
In the days leading up to Diwali, a simple Google search for “Crackers near me in Delhi” will bring up more than a dozen sellers. The Independent dialed about 10 of them who shared contact details online and found that at least four were prepared to supply all manner of firecrackers from sparklers to skyshots and garlands of up to 10,000 small bombs.
Another quick search on Instagram turned up two sellers willing to sell “green” cookies – they claim it’s an environmentally friendly version that produces less smoke. Within an hour we had six vendors ready to sell products that had been strictly banned by the authorities for weeks. Some offered home delivery, while two offered delivery to a midway drop-off point. None of them ended up buying The Independent.
Delhi Police say they are working hard to enforce the law as best they can, with more than 8,000 kg of fireworks seized so far in raids by plainclothes officers and chasing tips in different parts of the city.
“We are making some good catches and finding dealers with 500-1,000 kg of firecrackers,” says Dependra Pathak, Special Commissioner of Delhi Police.
The biggest hauls came from warehouses, but officers also busted convenience stores selling fireworks out of the back and even a mobile boot sale where many cartons of cookies were stored and sold.
One man who was arrested admitted to selling fireworks by using a scrap of paper to note down what people wanted to buy and then going to a mechanic’s shop that was being used as a storefront. After two to three hours, he collects the required quantity and hands over a “package of patakha (crackers)”, police said.
Pathak says their busiest day will be Monday itself and patrols will continue round the clock to try and stop people from buying and breaking crackers. Punishment is a must for those caught, he said – but he is also aware that the issue has become politically sensitive at a time of rising Hindu nationalist sentiment.
“It’s important to send a message and at the same time we recognize that crackers are treated as a cultural element.” Finally, he adds, the ban itself is not a matter of politics — it was ordered in 2020 by the independent National Green Tribunal, and regardless of city or state, “there are overarching guidelines from the federal [agency]” that must be followed.
About 80 percent of Delhi’s population is Hindu, and despite being in political opposition in the capital, Narendra Modi’s national ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has taken up the issue of defending the right of Hindus to celebrate Diwali with fireworks if they choose.
The BJP has accused the Delhi government – led by the AAP – of refusing to allow a “full celebration” of Diwali by trying to enforce the fireworks ban more strictly. Although there is no mention of firecrackers in Hindu mythology or religious manuscripts, they have become closely associated with the festival of lights, which traditionally features, among other things, the lighting of diyas (lamps) and the drawing of elaborate rangoli with colored powder.
“This is a clear attack on us Hindus who want to celebrate Diwali in our own way. We know pollution is a disaster, but why not give us a few hours to break the crackers,” Tajinder Bagga, BJP Delhi unit spokesperson, told The Independent.
Taking to his social media, Bagga compared the Delhi Chief Minister to the Muslim emperors who ruled India from the early 16th century to the 18th century. Some blame the Mughal rulers for curtailing the celebration of Hindu holidays during this era, although this is debated by historians.
In one video he shared, a child is seen saying, “You descendants of the Mughals, will you teach us how to celebrate Diwali? Now watch out!” as he proceeds to light the forbidden firecracker.
Some advocates for fireworks argue that they cause far less pollution than the seasonal crop stubble burning carried out by farmers in neighbouring state Punjab, India’s breadbasket. Stubble burning is also banned, and also politically sensitive, with parties unwilling to increase the fines and enforcement of the ban and risk losing the electoral support of farmers.
But experts say the impact of stubble burning on air pollution has also been overstated, with a recent study concluding Delhi’s annual air quality crisis is born largely of its own pollution sources, not from neighbouring states.
Delhi witnesses its poorest AQI from November to January and this is mainly caused by festivities and stable weather conditions which lock the pollutants in the cold air till at least February, says Dr Pavneet Kaur Kingra, the study’s author and head of Punjab Agriculture University’s department on climate change and agricultural meteorology.
Crop residue is also burnt in the summer months of April and May, she says, pointing out that smoke does not linger over Delhi’s atmosphere nearly as much during this season, making weather conditions arguably the strongest factor behind the capital’s air crisis.
Monday’s forecast AQI of “very poor” will be Delhi’s worst air since February, barring a few anomalous days in July during a freak dust storm.