Delhi Government Lights up the Sky with Lasers Not Crackers, Happy Diwali

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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, TIO: 26 October 2019. India’s first-ever “Community Diwali”, to usher in the festival of light, was celebrated in Delhi today, with an entertaining light and laser show to wean Delhites away from the centuries-old but dangerous, polluting practice of bursting crackers on Diwali. Instead of resorting to the age-old practice, after their evening prayers on Diwali, Delhites can now assemble in Connaught place for the free laser show, musical entertainment with popular singers like Javed Ali, Indian Ocean, Shilpa Rao and Euphoria performing on different days. The event would also have with food courts and bazaars, besides other art and cultural programs for four days between October 26-29, from 6-10 pm.

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The Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s plea to Delhites to celebrate a safe and cracker free Diwali, like one gigantic family, seems to have worked, with several thousands of them assembling at Connaught Place, on the first day of celebrations.

Awaking to smog-filled skies on Diwali mornings and the day after was a reality for Delhites for more than 15 years, which would become media headlines as well, but with precious little done to tackle it. This community event was therefore devised, as part of the Delhi government’s many initiatives for tackling pollution on a war footing, ever since the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came to power in 2015.

The concept of the community Diwali was triggered when “I went to the Signature Bridge last year, which had been newly inaugurated last Diwali and saw a few Delhites spending time on the bridge, enjoying the lights and view, instead of bursting crackers”, said Manish Sisodia, deputy chief minister of Delhi.

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India enjoys the dubious distinction of having 15 of its cities, listed amongst the total of 20 polluted cities of the world. And until just a couple of months back Delhi was listed in the top five. Through sustained efforts of the Delhi government, it has now slipped to 11th. Besides the prevailing conditions in Delhi and burning of agricultural waste in nearby states like Haryana and Punjab between October 25 and November 20, lighting crackers during Diwali, spike up the pollution levels to dangerous levels in the last week of October, forcing many to leave the city.

During Diwali 2017, Delhi’s Air Quality Index had reached 604, which was brought down to 492 last year, with the cracker bans. The week before Diwali, it hovered as AQI 300, which is still dangerously high. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an acceptable level for humans to breathe regularly is 25. Pollution levels at present are equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, or around 30 times the WHO’s safe limit.

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About 1,50,000 Delhites, lose their lives to pollution-related ailments every year! And yet successive governments in Delhi and the rest of the country have either lacked the intention and vision to tackle it at a war footing or did too little to curb it. The Supreme court finally intervened with an order in 2017 to ban crackers altogether, throughout the country.  It was however not strictly enforced by the state governments for fear of a backlash from the majority Hindu community, for whom Diwali is one of their major festivals. Many believed that there is no Diwali without crackers, even if meant breathing highly polluted air for the net couple of days.

Last year however SC relaxed the judgment by allowing ‘green crackers’ which is categorized as “low emission sound and light-emitting functional crackers” that produce less polluting particulate matter. Fewer varieties, high price, hardly any supply and a delay in issuing a license to sell these crackers, meant that regular, polluting firecrackers were used in almost 10,000 Ravana idols that were burnt during Dussera, last month, in Delhi alone.

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Despite heavy raids last year, which netted more than 4000 kgs of banned crackers, customers still bought banned and dangerous Chinese fireworks from the black market or online, making restrictions and seizures ineffective last year. This year a raid on a single shopkeeper netted 465 kgs of banned crackers so far, according to Delhi police.

Sadly, clean air has yet to catch on as a major electoral issue in India, despite the fact, that polluted air spares none. Air purifiers in homes and offices help create a temporary buffer, but can hardly be a solution in the long run. Lack of anti-pollution measures, besides a total disregard for environmental concerns, has especially been the hallmark of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in the center and most of the states in India. The top four of the most polluted cities in the country are in the BJP ruled state of Uttarpradesh. Prime minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi is the top-ranked in this list, followed by Lucknow, Muzzafarnagar and Moradabad.

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