Did Delhi follow lights not crackers message this Diwali?

The festival of Diwali is increasingly and unnecessarily becoming controversial each year. The controversy increases every year because there is no doubt that bursting of crackers adds to the air pollution of the city. The ruling party of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) banned the bursting of crackers on Diwali this year. The ban against crackers was met with resistance from political leaders from other ruling party of Delhi, the BJP. This makes the beautiful festival of Diwali unnecessarily political and takes away from the joy and happiness people should experience on Diwali day.

The Department of Environment, Government of NCT of Delhi organised an event on Diye Jalao, Patakhe Nahi (light not crackers) for generating awareness on harmful effects of bursting crackers and increased air pollution in the capital during the winter months.Thousands of diyas were lighted by the Delhi Government at Central Park, Connaught Place a few days before Diwali to spread this message. Environment Minister of Delhi Gopal Rai himself led this campaign and indeed many citizens followed heed and did not burst crackers this Diwali. However, for a city of 20+ million residents, many others did burst firecrackers in different parts of the city.

How necessary is the controversy?

As discussed above, the controversy around Diwali festival is increasing each year. The air pollution in Delhi is getting worse each year, and so are the concerns of firecrackers bursting on Diwali. However, what needs to be discussed is the reason for the worsening air pollution, which can help us understand how necessary this controversy really is? For one, there is no doubt that air pollution worsens on the Diwali night. But, the air quality does not remain fine rest of the year. Delhi already notes many worse air pollution days during many times in the year, and the festival only pushes the city beyond its tipping point.

The following graph from India Today shows the increasing number of days with poor and very poor air quality in Delhi from 2018 to 2022. Only the year 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic onset year, shows some respite otherwise the air quality is getting worse each passing year. Interestingly, the data is from the first six months of the year and therefore does not include Diwali festival. Air quality in Delhi is on a downward trend and citizens, especially children and the elderly, are forced to inhale polluted air on a daily basis. Diwali is only a point in the graph but is clearly not the cause of this graph.

If Delhi is already highly polluted with air pollution, and if Diwali is only a tipping point indicator, it is certainly not something we can or should blame of the air pollution problem. It is certainly worrisome that citizens of Delhi who live in such high air pollution are fine with bursting firecrackers and polluting their environment even more. But that is another matter, and what we need to find out first is the reason behind high air pollution in Delhi almost throughout the year. A key factor that comes to mind is the ever increasing population of Delhi.

According to recent estimates and projections, Delhi’s population may already have risen beyond 30 million citizens! There is also a consequent increase in number of vehicles on Delhi’s roads, which are increasing every day. There is construction everywhere in the city, and all around it and this is also adding to the air pollution. Removal of forests and tree cover due to construction, and making more space available for people also adds to air pollution of the city. The Diwali festival comes during winters, which is also the time of temperature inversion making it citizen responsibility to pollute less during this time. The stubble burning that takes place in and around Delhi only adds to the menace.

Was it a cleaner Diwali 2022?

Diwali this year seems cleaner than previous year. While there is some data to substantiate this claim even amidst increasing claims of crackers being burst, following factors may have contributed in a cleaner Diwali this year. The stubble burning in the neighbouring states has not taken place this year, and hopefully it will not take place at all. But there are reports suggesting Diwali happened before the time of stubble burning. The weather around Diwali this year was also conducive, may be due to Cyclone Sitrang, that hovered in the north-east of India on Diwali.

Diwali is a festival of lights, joy and happiness, let us keep it this way. And let the only politics be the wishes we receive from nations around the world, like this one received from the President of the United States Joe Biden.

With prayers, dances, fireworks, and sweets, may all who observe Diwali enjoy the chance to celebrate and connect, to feel the pride of community, and to remember the power in the gathering of light. – Joe Biden, President, USA

Diwali 2022 may not all be free from pollution, it is certainly lesser than previous years! You should still check the air quality around you before you make any outdoor plans. It may also be a good idea to keep those masks handy. You should also keep track of any alerts received from the green war room set up by the Delhi Government, another unnecessary requirement of the Diwali festival. Let us reflect on all the factors that make Delhi a highly polluted city, always on the tipping point, and let us work to reduce and eliminate all such factors.

Trisha Gupta

Trisha Gupta is a sustainability professional with advanced degrees in environmental communication and conservation ecology.

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