Air pollution in the Indian capital has hit hazardous levels after a night of revelry to celebrate the festival of Diwali. Despite a ruling to limit the use of firecrackers, most celebrations went ahead as normal.
Dangerous levels of smog shrouded Delhi and surrounding areas on Thursday after revelers flouted a ban on fireworks — especially firecrackers — to celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali.
Major monuments in the city, such as India Gate and the Red Fort, were shrouded in a haze of pollution with visibility on major roads reduced to about 50 meters (160 feet).
Air quality readings showed very poor and severe levels which, over a long period, can lead to respiratory illness. The US Embassy in the Delhi — which according to the World Health Organization is the most polluted city on Earth — said its readings touched 526. Readings above 500 in the index, which measures poisonous gases and toxic particulate matter in the air, are typically associated with serious aggravation of the heart and lungs.
Even ahead of the festival, authorities had warned people to stay indoors as much as possible. The period following Diwali last year saw hospitals inundatedwith people suffering the effects of air pollution.
Ruling largely ignored
India's Supreme Court last month ruled that only firecrackers that emit less smoke and soot could be sold in the city, in an effort to limit pollution over the festival period. It also stipulated that the fireworks could only be set off between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. — a ruling that appeared to go largely ignored.
Activists complained that authorities had not enforced the regulations, amid complaints from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party that the ban was deliberately targeted against Hindu festivals.
"The Supreme Court order on fireworks was not followed and health warnings from the government were limited to few newspapers and some websites," said Greenpeace campaigner Sunil Dahiya.
Diwali is always one of the worst times of year for air quality, as firework smoke mixes with car exhaust fumes, factory emissions and construction dust. Air pollution worsens in winter anyway, with the burning of crop residue in nearby rural areas, and the use of diesel generators among the factors at play.