Air quality monitors in the Indian capital reached their maximum “hazardous” level as Diwali celebrations left New Delhi engulfed in a thick layer of smog – despite a court ban on toxic fireworks.
More than 300 people were arrested in New Delhi and 200 in Kolkata for flouting a Supreme Court order that only “green firecrackers” were to be let off, and only between 8pm-10pm.
On Thursday morning the skies over Delhi were opaque from the smoke and street-level visibility had plunged to barely more than 100 metres.
Some of New Delhi’s monuments including the India Gate and Red Fort were blanketed by a noxious hue. Residents wore masks and goggles as they struggled to see properly on major roads.
The yearly smog is the combined result of millions of cheap fireworks containing sulphur and charcoal, Delhi being in a geographically low location for smoke to clear, harvest-time burning by farmers in neighbouring states and a lack of rain.
On Thursday morning monitors that measure fine pollutants — small enough to penetrate the lungs — hit dangerously high readings over 1,500. The ‘safe’ limit for such pollutants is 25, according to the World Health Organisation.
Meanwhile another measure of overall atmospheric conditions, the Air Quality Index, was at its maximum of 999 around Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium. Anything over 300 is deemed hazardous to breathe. In comparison, London stood at 36 on Thursday.
The court had asked police to ensure that banned fireworks were not sold and said in case of any violation the commanding officer of the police station concerned would be held personally liable and it would amount to committing contempt of the court.
But despite the court order, there were reports of violatiosn from many areas long after 10pm. As with the annual battle Diwali pollution, few believed any legal edicts will be enforced.
All week, traders had been asking for clarification over what green firecrackers were. Police officers said they could not tell an environmentally-friendly banger from an unfriendly one so were unsure what action to take.
Officials on Thursday said police seized 2,776kgs of firecrackers from various parts of the city, and a total of 87 people were arrested and 72 cases cases registered in connection with the illegal sale of fireworks.
Despite the grey gloom that falls each year, outright bans such as instituted last year – largely ignored by the public – are criticised for suppressing religious expression.