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Diwali: A Festival of Lights

There are but few festivals in India that are celebrated with as much zeal and happiness as Diwali. One would be right in saying that it is the brightest and the biggest festivals of the Hindus. So grand is its celebration that Diwali has now become an Indian festival, not just a Hindu festival. The country lights up days before Diwali and stays alight for days afterwards as well.
Celebrations of Diwali go back to ancient India, with several legends claiming its origin. Harvest is perhaps its most simple and ancient claimant, however, subsequent legends like a marriage of goddess Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu and the return of Lord Rama from Lanka are equally popular beliefs.
Celebrations on the day of Diwali are marked by prayers in the evenings and lighting up of houses with lamps and fairy lights in the evening, before the dark sets in. After the prayers have been done, it is a common tradition for children to burst crackers and for the elders and other members of a family to visit each other’s houses and exchange gifts and sweets. The sound of the crackers is supposed to be an indication of the joy of the people.
In the last few years, this festival has taken on a much more overstated turn. The traditional exchange of home-made sweets and simple lamps has changed to include extravagant decorations and splurging on crackers; kids can be seen having discussions on how expensive their stock of crackers is. In this excitement to burst crackers, people tend to forget not just the health implications for people suffering from respiratory problems but also the severe environmental hazards.
The few days after Diwali are known to be the worst around the year in light of the thick smog and terrible condition of the air. Pollution levels are dangerously high, especially in the North Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
In the recent years, the pollution levels in Delhi have been noticed to have spiked drastically in the days after Diwali. A study conducted in 2015 found that PM 2.5 particulates in the outdoor open environment increased by 3.5 times after Diwali. In fact, 2016 saw Delhi breathe through one of the worst smogs it has ever witnessed thanks to the meteorological conditions.
Supreme Court’s Ban on Sale of Crackers
In light of these issues, the Supreme Court of India imposed a ban on the sale of crackers in the National Capital Region (NCR). The general public, as well as shopkeepers, created much uproar in the days following the judgment Lots of criticism has been offered for this discontentment with the ban:
  • Burning of crops and crop residue on the farmlands around the NCR (mostly in Punjab, Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh) also contributes to the high levels of pollution.
  • The ban has been imposed too late. At this point, a lot of people have already bought crackers.
  • Imposing a ban in NCR would not make too much of a difference since people can still buy crackers from outside the region.
  • The shopkeepers and manufacturers of crackers are likely to suffer great losses due to reduced purchase. Many shopkeepers depend on these sales to make a living and those will be the worst hit.
However, these facts along with the ones given below are the perfect reason to accept more stringent measures to prevent further pollution. In a colony in Delhi, 70% respondents were found to have respiratory problems following Diwali. PM 2.10 is small enough to enter the lungs and PM 2.5 is small enough to enter the bloodstreams, therefore making its inhalation fatal. In 2016, Gurugram doctors found respiratory problems tripling in children, after Diwali.
Despite severe criticism from certain members of the society, most people have welcomed the move. So much so that activists and residents in other metros have also called for similar restrictions. In Sivasaki, which is the centre of fireworks industry, traders have admitted that the change is coming and that they must find a way forward, some even considering green crackers.
Post-Diwali Situation in Delhi
Noise and smoke levels in the region had been much lower than the previous few years, so much so that the Central Pollution Control Board said, “The sound level data on Deepawali day monitored during last four years reveals that in 2017 the sound level recorded is the lowest at all stations, even in humid atmospheric conditions.”
Areas in Delhi say the PM10 and PM2.5 levels go as high as more than 24 times and 15 times the satisfactory levels, respectively. The Air Quality index in Delhi on Friday (after Diwali) was at 403, which was better than 2016 when it stood at 445. However, it must be noted that the same stood at 360 in 2015. In this index, healthy levels of air quality are between 0-50.
The author would also like to draw attention to an interesting piece of information shared by the Delhi fire department. A senior fire services officer from Delhi said, “We received 139 calls between 12 am (last night) to 9 pm. Between 9 pm to 11 pm, which happen to be the peak hours, we received 62 calls.” 28 temporary stations were set up by the fire department across the city in additions to the already existing permanent stations which are 59 in number.

Conclusion
Celebrating Diwali does not mean completely giving up the things you love. However, it is time to go back to the traditional Diwali celebrations of the past. Not only will you be helping to save the environment but also you will understand better the true meaning of Diwali.
The Supreme Court’s order has definitely proven to show improvements in the city. Many people have argued that the improvement was not that severe and it couldn’t necessarily be attributed to the ban on the sale, since crackers were sold and burst in Delhi anyway. Many people have also claimed that the ban didn’t make that much of a difference since the air quality remained very poor despite it.
However, one must remember that some improvement is better than none. It is the opinion of the author that the Apex Court must be offered applause for taking this wondrous step towards an attempt to help the residents of Delhi breathe a little easy.

Written By:
Harshita Chaarag
On behalf of the Editorial Team

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