The Honorable Supreme Court of India banned the sale of crackers from October 9 2017 to November 1 2017 in New Delhi. The decision came in the wake of the aftermath of Diwali 2016, when the particulate matter in the air shot up to 3 times the normal, which made Delhi the most polluted city in the world.
With over 1200 kilograms of crackers being seized post the ban and shops being sealed, social media opinion seems to be divided on the issue. While people who are for the ban welcomed the move and argued that it will help control the pollution in Delhi, the ones against the ban added a communal angle to it, calling it a move to ‘civilize and alienate the Hindu population’ and even called for a ‘bloodless Eid’.
The memes shared on social media only proved how divided the nation was on the cracker ban. While the ones in favor of it threw pollution statistics around to highlight the degrading quality of air that Delhiites breathe every day, the ones against it, saw it as an attempt to malign Hindu festivals and called the Supreme Court’s judgement a classic case of judicial overreach.
The debate around the cracker ban doesn’t seem to end, but that doesn’t change the fact that all of us have got the cracker ban all wrong. The cracker ban, unlike what the Honorable Supreme Court argues, won’t help control the pollution in Delhi/ NCR. Wait, hold up! Before you call me a Bhakt or a Sanghi, just know that the argument is entirely based on facts.
Post Diwali 2016, the city of Delhi and the National Capital Region was covered in thick smog. The quality of air and the visibility dropped to dangerous lows in no time, and Delhi left Beijing behind to become the most polluted city in the world. People were advised to wear masks as most suffered from respiratory problems. Since the smog came in after Diwali, people were quick to blame the crackers for the increase in pollution.
However, a comprehensive report published in the Financial Express analyzed the increasing pollution levels and discovered that it was not the crackers but the burning of crops in the states of Haryana and Punjab that led to an increase in the particulate matter. The pollution levels were already at peak before Diwali – and the crackers made the situation worse. That, accompanied by an increase in the humidity and low wind speeds (which can be attributed to the weather in the month of October), caused the pollutants to stay near the ground and led to the formation of a thick smog. NASA’s weather forecast images are proof:
Farmers in neighboring Punjab and Haryana have been setting fire to paddy stubble in their fields NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team, GSFC
The red dots in the image suggest ‘fires and thermal anomalies’, which can be attributed to the burning of crops by farmers which leads to blackening of skies. Here is an excerpt from the report:
“A NASA forecast shows high levels of ‘fires and thermal anomalies’ in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan. As per an NYT report, farmers are burning around 32 million tons of leftover straw. The National Green Tribunal had last year told the government to stop farmers from burning their crops. Towards the end of October, farmers begin burning the process of burning paddy stubble which leads to plumes of smoke blackening the skies”.
Schmaltz LANCE/EOSDIS MODIS Rapid Response Team, GSFC.
In fact, Delhi is not the only city that was affected by smog. The air quality nosedived in Lahore, Pakistan (due to the proximity of the state to Haryana and Punjab). A report in Dawn newspaper stated: “Lahore on Wednesday remained covered in thick and gray smog, heavily loaded with pollutants which affected the air quality.“
The fact that even the city of Lahore, where it is unlikely that there were extensive Diwali celebrations, was also covered in a thick, gray smog only proves that it is not the crackers but the burning of crops that lead to severe pollution in Delhi and other neighboring states. Crackers might have played a role in pollution, but if statistics are to be believed, they were not the primary cause of pollution.
India Gate post Diwali 2016Wall Street Journal
A year later in 2017, on 16th October (3 days before Diwali), the air quality worsened despite the cracker ban. The air quality level was “very poor” in many areas, including IGI Airport, Delhi University (North Campus) and Mathura Road. AQI of 290 was recorded – merely 10 points away from overall “very poor” air quality. The PM2.5 was set to increase to at least 122 units on Tuesday and 137 units on Wednesday, a day before Diwali, according to the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR). If that is the state of air in Delhi despite the cracker ban, one wonders if the ban has served its purpose.
Statistics are proof that the cracker ban might help reduce the pollution in Delhi, but as long as adequate measures are not taken to stop the crop burning in Punjab and Haryana, making Delhi pollution-free will remain a dream.