Air pollution in the National Capital Region (NCR) peaked in the days ahead of Diwali on account of stubble burning in Punjab, forcing the state government to declare an early winter break for schools and implement a series of measures to contain the situation. Rain close to the festival of lights gave Delhi’s citizens a clear sky and clean air on Diwali day. However, pollution levels started to spike at night because of the bursting of firecrackers, an act banned by the Supreme Court. Delhi’s 24-hour average air quality index (AQI) on Sunday was recorded at 218 at 4pm by the Central Pollution Control Board and started to rise after 8pm. It reached 301 by 10am on Monday. It was 358 in the 4pm bulletin, and was set to climb further from 8pm onwards once the 24-hour rolling average adequately captured the illegal firecracker revelry of the previous night. PM 2.5 remained the prominent pollutant, showcasing the impact of combustion sources – in this case, firecrackers.
The correlation between firecrackers, air pollution and serious respiratory ailments has been established by science. Public policy has to be guided by science. The ban on firecrackers is state policy; the government must punish those encouraging its violation. Encouraging the use of firecrackers is an abetment to murder. Sure, firecrackers only make Delhi’s bad air worse, but to argue that it’s alright to do so because not enough is being done (by primarily the Delhi government, but also governments of other NCR states and the Centre) is specious. Nor is this, as some politicians have suggested, a matter of faith.
Public advocacies in the past reached out to children and parents via schools to highlight the involvement of children in the manufacture of firecrackers, and also the harm they do to the air, and thereby to our lungs. The science of pollution has to be made a vital part of school curricula and a central aspect of civic campaigns so that politicians who facilitate polluting the air in our cities are held accountable by the citizens.
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