To ban or not to ban: State governments and courts and scrambling to control firecracker during Diwali as COVID-spread fears rise | Photo: Rozana Spokesman

Ahead of Diwali, firecracker bans and U-turns

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned bursting or selling firecrackers in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) and much of north India till December 1. The ban has been imposed over the growing toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. Odisha, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Chandigarh, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee and the Calcutta high court had already responded to deteriorating environmental conditions by banning firecrackers this year.

Haryana and Karnataka did a U-turn. Two days after announcing a ban, Haryana allowed bursting firecrackers for two hours on Diwali. Karnataka has allowed ‘green crackers’, hours after indicating that the state would ban firecrackers on Diwali.

The Uttar Pradesh government banned firecrackers in the NCR region, including in Muzaffarnagar, Agra, Varanasi, Meerut, Hapur, Ghaziabad, Kanpur, Lucknow, Moradabad, Noida, Greater Noida, Baghpat, Bulandshahr.

The government allowed ‘green firecrackers’ where air quality is ‘moderate’ or better. Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray said his government will not ban firecrackers. He appealed to people to refrain from using them in the interest of health and safety of all. In Mumbai, however, the BMC banned firecrackers within city limits.

PM2.5 breaches hazardous limits, ‘the worst-air’ days begin in NCR

Delhi recorded ‘emergency’ levels on the air quality index, exceeding well over 500. At some places it reached 735 on Tuesday—the highest so far in Delhi this year. This was a day after the worst-air day, and the fifth consecutive day of severely toxic air.  The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) said PM2.5 was the prominent pollutant.

Over 12 localities recorded AQIs in the ‘severe’ category between 401-500. In neighbouring places, Haryana’s Jind was the most polluted with an AQI of 500, Gurugram’s Sector-51 recorded (499), Noida’s Sector-116 (499), Faridabad’s Sector-16A (497), and Ghaziabad’s Loni (476). 

Nearly 2,247 stubble fires across Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and neighbouring areas were reported on Tuesday. This stubble smoke contributed 22% of the total pollution in Delhi-NCR. Increasing humidity and calm surface winds also exacerbated pollution. 

The newly formed Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR and adjoining areas urged people to avoid using personal transport, stop burning biomass, sprinkle water on roads and use anti-smog guns at construction sites to improve the deteriorating air quality.

States granted ₹2,200 crore to fight air pollution, most-polluted Delhi not included

The Centre decided to release ₹2,200 crore to fight air pollution to 42 cities with a population of more than a million. The money will be used under the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to build the local urban bodies and state pollution control boards. Delhi is not among the cities that will receive funds under this grant. While Delhi is among the 102 cities covered by NCAP, it has not received any funding under NCAP. Greater Mumbai received the maximum share, Rs244 crore followed by Kolkata (₹192 crore), Bengaluru (₹139.5 crore) and Chennai (₹90 crore).

The grant is part of the finance commission recommendation of ₹4,400 crore to NCAP. The programme aims to reduce PM 2.5 concentrations by 20-30% in over a hundred cities compared to 2017 levels.

For Delhi-NCR, the finance commission recommended that Centre constitute a high power committee, consisting of the ministries of Finance, Environment, Forest and Climate Change and Agriculture and Farmer Welfare, the Governments of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, to devise, implement and monitor a time-bound action plan for pollution mitigation under the National Clean Air Programme, HT reported.

Tiny air pollution rise linked to 11% more COVID-19 deaths: study

In two separate researches, it has been found that 15% of all COVID-19 deaths around the world are attributable to dirty air, and most significantly, a small rise in long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with an 11% increase in deaths from COVID-19.  The researchers said the evidence was now strong enough that levels of dirty air must be considered a key factor in handling coronavirus outbreaks.

Professor Francesca Dominici at Harvard University, who led the new analysis, said there is a lot of scientific evidence that makes us think that a virus that attacks our lungs and kills you with viral pneumonia, might become more deadly if your lungs are compromised because you’re breathing air pollution.”

The study considered the impact of a single-unit rise in average particle pollution over 16 years before the pandemic on COVID-19 deaths in 3,089 US counties, covering 98% of the population.

About The Author