Many residents of New Delhi defied a firecracker ban on Diwali on Monday as political parties traded blame on who was responsible for the Indian capital’s foul air.
The air quality index across various hotspots of the city of about 20 million breached the “hazardous” category late in the day, with a peak of 768 in the Jahangirpuri area – more than 15 times the “good” level.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s government said last week that people who let off firecrackers during Diwali would face up to six months in jail, under a broader ban introduced to help combat extreme winter pollution.
Some Hindus, especially supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that sits in the opposition in Delhi, have said the ban is the government’s attempt to obscure the fact it has failed to act against pollution, especially its failure to rein in the burning of harvested crop areas as a clearing method in neighbouring states.
Delhi is the world’s most polluted capital and its air becomes particularly bad from mid-December to February as heavy, cold air traps dust, vehicle emissions and smoke from burning crop stubble in states like Punjab and Haryana.
“Kejriwal’s minister had threatened to put those burning firecrackers in jail,” said Amit Malviya, who runs the BJP’s national information and technology department, posting a video of firecrackers lighting up the Delhi night sky.
“Where is Kejriwal who was trying to do such audacity with Hindus? Is there any prison that can accommodate so many people?”
Earlier in the day, Kejriwal posted two graphics on Twitter showing that Delhi’s air quality had improved in the last three years.
“Have we won the war against pollution and am I satisfied? Not at all,” Kejriwal said. “It is encouraging that we are no more the world’s most polluting city. It encourages us that we are on the right track.”