If we avoid burning firecrackers, it will be beneficial as this anthropogenic activity adds to pollution levels. The government should encourage electronic crackers that have a light and sound effect and do not cause any pollution.
Ajeya Bandyopadhyay | Dr Amrita Ganguly
With the Air Quality Index hovering above 250 which is "severe and hazardous", Delhi has clearly become the "pollution capital" of India. According to WHO estimates, Delhi's PM levels are double that of Beijing. Zabol in Iran has the highest PM 2.5 levels at 217 μg/m3 while Onitsha in Nigeria has the highest PM 10 levels at 594 μg/m3. Peshawar and Rawalpindi in Pakistan, Riyadh and Al Jubail in Saudi Arabia and Delhi follow closely in the same order.
Air pollution remains high almost round the year, with the situation worsening during the winter months (October to January) primarily due to unchecked burning of crop residue. The air quality further aggravates during Diwali and thereafter remains high for a longer duration. Last year, a haze hung over the national capital for an extended period of time. Estimates suggest that over two days Diwali adds about incremental 40 μg/m3/day to the usual 250 μg/m3 of PM 2.5 particulate concentration, while sulphur dioxide levels increase to 183 μg/m3 from the usual 50 μg/m3. Air Quality Index in several areas in Delhi show 999 after Diwali, indicating that levels had far exceeded the AQI charts.
Since last year, various institutions have left no stone unturned to address the issue of rising air pollution. The Delhi government has taken various measures from time to time like odd-even rule, environmental tax on commercial vehicles entering Delhi, banning new large diesel cars and SUVs with engines of more than 2,000 CC, stopping diesel generators, hiking parking fees etc to keep the levels of pollution from rising.
The Badarpur Power Plant was shut for some period when smog was reported as being high. It is the most polluting power plant in India and contributed just 8 per cent to the city's electric supply, but produces more than 80 per cent of Delhi's particulate matter pollution from the energy sector. To tackle the issues, schools are distributing masks to students, are holding awareness rallies and have extended the Diwali break.
The Supreme Court has clarified that fire crackers other than green crackers will not be sold in the Delhi-NCR during festivals. Further, it has restrained e-commerce websites like Flipkart and Amazon from selling firecrackers which are beyond the permissible limit, applicable across India.
Two national labs, the Central Electrochemical Research Institute and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, have developed green crackers which contain 25 percent to 30 percent less particulate matter and 50 percent less sulphur-dioxide.
Aluminium powder used in crackers have been replaced with magnesium to reduce ignition temperature and minimize particulate matter. These crackers are also 25 percent to 30 percent cheaper than conventional ones. It has been reported that last year's Diwali was the cleanest in Delhi as sale of crackers was banned in the national capital by the Supreme Court, but pollution still soared as many residents continued to light fireworks.
The need of the hour is to take collaborative and pragmatic steps by the government and citizens to save the city which is home to about 14 million people. While the SC verdict on this is a welcoming, its appropriate and accelerated enforcement is important and crucial to ensure pollution does not take a toll of the citizens. Moreover, everyone should understand that to solve such issues, beyond legal mandate, an immense behavioural and cultural transformation is needed.
Avoiding burning of crackers would be most beneficial as this anthropogenic activity adds to pollution. Although not completely full-proof green crackers might be an alternative. It is important that the citizens' awareness is built around this and they foster a sense of shared responsibility and pro-environmental behaviour. Social media campaigns on a cleaner and greener Delhi need to gain traction. The government should encourage development of E-crackers or electronic crackers which will give various light and sound effects without any pollution.
Parallel to this, 360 degree pollution curbing measures during Diwali, such as shutting down the Badarpur Power Plant, championing low-emission public transportation and taking severe steps on polluting industries in and around the city would make Delhi much cleaner. It is both the government and citizen's responsibility to ensure that air pollution is curbed to make Delhi a greener city.
Ajeya Bandyopadhyay is a partner and Dr Amrita Ganguly is an Associate Director of KPMG, India.