As Delhi chokes under a cloud of toxic air – courtesy thousands who defied government orders banning firecrackers this Diwali – the national capital’s Environment Minister Gopal Rai has lashed out at the BJP, accusing it of instigating people to “burst firecrackers on purpose”.
Mr Rai also blamed smoke from 3,500 farm fires (to burn stubble and agricultural waste) for the horrific air pollution in the city – which spike to off-the-chart levels this time every year.
“A large number of people did not burst firecrackers. I thank them all. But some people burst firecrackers on purpose. The BJP made them do it,” he said Friday afternoon, declaring that the city’s “base pollution level” had remained unchanged.
Violation of the government’s firecracker ban was widespread, with reports coming in as early as 7 pm from Lajpat Nagar in south Delhi, Burari in the northern part of the city, Paschim Vihar in the west and Shahdara in the east.
Mr Rai also said the impact of farm fires added to Delhi’s air pollution nightmare.
According to the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ air quality forecast agency SAFAR, stubble burning accounted for 36 per cent of Delhi’s Friday PM2.5 levels, the highest this season.
Delhi’s AQI (air quality index) remained at ‘hazardous’ levels this morning, with several people complaining of an itchy throat, watery eyes and trouble breathing.
At 1 pm, PM2.5 levels at Lodhi Road (in the heart of the national capital) was 394. It was 416 near the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium and 399 near the US embassy in central Delhi.
At the Anand Vihar data-collection point the AQI was 427. Levels at these and several other stations hit 999 last evening, as against the World Health Organization’s prescribed limit of 25.
Airborne PM2.5 can cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases such as lung cancer.
Similar pollution levels were reported from nearby cities as well, with AQI in Noida (466), Ghaziabad (450), Faridabad (460) and Gurgaon (478) all well above recommended levels.
Noida and Ghaziabad are in Uttar Pradesh, and Faridabad and Gurgaon are in Haryana.
Both states are ruled by the BJP and their respective governments had also banned firecrackers – a ban that was violated in spectacular fashion last night.
Experts, including those at SAFAR, say the condition is unlikely to improve before Sunday.