Why has the ban on firecrackers failed to control air pollution?
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Why has the ban on firecrackers failed to control air pollution?

A day after a relatively silent Diwali, environmentalists of Delhi share their views with our City Spidey reporter.  

Why has the ban on firecrackers failed to control air pollution? Trails of smoke inside the compartment

So the verdict is out! Today a day after Diwali, newspapers have carried reports about how the Apex Court’s ban on firecrackers has not helped much in restricting pollution levels in the NCR. And there are live accounts of people too.

A case in point is Naresh Kumar, a resident of Dwarka Sector 12 who had undertaken a metro ride on Diwali evening from Noida Sector 55. Sharing his experience with City Spidey, Kumar said that he had started feeling a little claustrophobic on reaching the Uttam Nagar station around 10.30 pm. However, he somehow managed to continue the train journey and reach his destination which is the Dwarka Sector 12 metro station. However, in the fifteen minutes that this stretch entailed he started experiencing breathing problems as smoke had started swirling inside the compartment. The usually mint clean compartments had started to look visibly smoggy.

“As soon as the metro crossed the RK Ashram station the air inside the compartments progressively started getting heavier,” Kumar elaborated. “Since it was Diwali day there were very few people in every coach. Had it been a regular day the smoke trail would have caused much more discomfort. Infact it could have been lethal for Asthma patients.”

The seriousness of the smoke caused by crackers can be understood through Kumar’s experience. Apparently the smoke had filtered into the compartments at the time of the opening and closing of doors at the station. Incidentally when Kumar photographed the area around the metro station he could see that the smoke was stagnant at a particular height, owing to the specific atmospheric temperature.

According to a Metro official, the Noida Dwarka line has an elevation of about 18 metres. This clearly shows that the smoke was dense at this height too.  

One cannot help wondering what exactly had triggered this uncomfortable level of pollution despite the fact that firecrackers were significantly lesser this year.

SK Malik who has been studying environment and pollution in Delhi and its surrounding areas had a simple commonsense theory. He said that the ban was ineffective as people nevertheless had purchased crackers from other places. “The pollution measurement equipment that has been designed per international standards was at its highest level yesterday. It had touched 999 at two places in Delhi. So one can easily understand the severity of the pollution levels”

Malik shared that the pollution levels were actually not lesser than last year. However, he says that due to some atmospheric factors like temperature and humidity the effect was low at the surface level. “This year there is a wind speed and some measure of humidity. These factors have mitigated the ground level smoke proliferation and hence controlled pollution,” said Malik.  

City Spidey also approached Diwan Singh, an environment activist from Natural Heritage First for a perspective.  In his words, “The ban on sale of fire crackers has failed to make an impact to air pollution as the root of the problem lies elsewhere. The example of Chennai versus Delhi can explain this. The vehicle density of Chennai is much more than Delhi. However, Chennai has only one tenth of Delhi’s pollution than Delhi. This is because pollution of a city is mitigated when polluted air gets exchanged with the fresh air of hinterlands. Delhi has a vast concrete spread. This does not give enough time for air to exchange with the fresh air from surrounding hinterlands. Generally, low temperature and low wind speed in winter further aggravates the position. On the other hand, the urban concrete landscape of Chennai is relatively lesser. Most importantly Chennai has the sea in its vicinity that facilitates a good exchange of air.”

So are the satellite towns of Delhi compounding the problem of air pollution? “Well yes. Air does not recognise political boundaries. De-expansion of Delhi and it's satellite towns is the only way to control air pollution.”