It is heartening that the Supreme Court has taken a bold stand and banned sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR (National Capital Region) in quest of a relatively cleaner Diwali this year. It is no secret that year after year pollution in the national capital touches horrendous levels due to the toxic fumes that are a result of the burning of firecrackers. It is mind-boggling how many people suffer from respiratory disorders and other ailments sparked off by the inhalation of toxic fumes in Delhi and surrounding areas. While this problem is perceived throughout the year it is particularly acute close to Diwali time when millions of people are seen gasping for breath and many of them make a beeline for hospitals and clinics. Predictably, had the ban on firecrackers been imposed by the government, there would have been a huge hue and cry from people at large. Mercifully, there is still an element of deference and respect for the judiciary, and an inherent faith that it would take a measure like this only when it is in the interests of people, to safeguard public health. Children in particular are bound to complain since firecrackers are a form of entertainment that they keenly look forward to every year but when the diktat comes from no less than the apex court in the country, the muted protests would give way to passive acceptance.
It is unfortunate that a stricter, comprehensive and time-bound action plan to address all sources of air pollution has been talked off for years but precious little has been done to combat the problem. The air quality index recorded on Monday was an alarming 277 which is rated as poor by any standards. Had the Supreme Court not come down hard on firecrackers, this figure would have gone much higher in the critical period. Even now, the apex court order will need to be implemented strictly to make the desired impact. Effective monitoring and swift action against sellers would really be the key to its success. Some attention also needs to be given to farm stubble burning in the rural areas around NCR which too is a major pollutant. Open field burning is reckoned to be responsible for 12 per cent to 25 per cent of particulate pollution in Delhi. Fall in wind speed is making the situation worse. Experts say the concentrations of ultra-fine dust particulate matter reach as high as 1,000 ug/m3, nearly 17 times the safe limit of 60 ug/m3. The levels are usually highest in the early mornings and late evenings. Morning joggers, schoolchildren, and elderly are more vulnerable to such highly toxic smog. Paying mere lip service to the problem as State governments are prone to do is no substitute for real, concerted action to deal with the menace.