NEW DELHI: India’s top court on Tuesday eased a ban on fireworks for a major Hindu festival despite air pollution in New Delhi and other cities again reaching dangerous levels.
The Supreme Court, which last year banned firecrackers for the Diwali festival, rejected a new call for a ban in the capital amid growing concern over pollution.
Firecrackers set off for the Hindu festival of lights add to the toxic mix created by farmers burning crop stubble, diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and industrial emissions.
The World Health Organisation in May listed 14 Indian cities, including Delhi, in the world’s top 15 with the dirtiest air.
Activists in India, home to the world’s 14 most polluted cities, had petitioned the court for another ban on fireworks ahead of Diwali, when millions of firecrackers are lit.
Environmentalist Vimlendu Jha said there was no such thing as an environmentally safe firework and blasted the court decision as others raised concerns about how the order can be enforced.
“Your one decision to allow sale and use of firecrackers in current times, while half of our country turns into a gas chamber, will kill toddlers, children and elderly,” Jha said in a tweet.
Ahead of Diwali on Nov 7, the Supreme Court ordered that only reduced smoke fireworks — so-called “green firecrackers” — could be sold and that this must be through licensed traders. No fireworks can be sold online, it said.
The court has also set a two-hour window from 8pm to 10pm for the lighting of crackers on Diwali.
“It needs to be enforced strictly,” Gopal Sankarnarayan, a lawyer for the petitioners, told NDTV television.
Last year, the Supreme Court suspended the licenses of all firecracker sellers in Delhi for one month because of the pollution crisis which leaves the Indian capital’s 20 million residents gasping for clean air during the winter months.
However, many ignored the ban and purchased crackers illegally or brought out old stocks.
Every winter, air pollution in Delhi soars as cooler air traps harmful particles from the various emissions.
Smog has climbed in recent weeks as temperatures have fallen and smoke from burning wheat fields in neighbouring states has reached the capital, mingling with urban pollutants.
The US embassy website on Tuesday showed levels of the smallest and most harmful airborne pollutants reached 164 at midday — more than six times the WHO safe maximum.
The city administration last week closed its biggest coal-fired power plant in a bid to improve air quality.
But another coal plant is proposed for Khurja, just outside Delhi, posing similar health risks for millions in the Indian capital, critics say.
In a report published on Tuesday, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis recommended the Khurja proposal be scrapped.
“Delhi already has the dubious reputation of having the worst air pollution of any city in the world,” the institute’s Tim Buckley said in a statement.
“If the Khurja coal plant is built as planned near Delhi, this will increase the impact on local residents, emergency workers and the local government.”
Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2018
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