NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Delhi authorities are offering residents laser light shows to mark the Hindu festival of Diwali this weekend and wean them away from bursting tens of thousands of firecrackers that cause a deadly spike in air pollution.
The air quality in the Indian capital has already worsened with levels of PM 2.5, tiny particulate matter that goes deep into the lungs, already twice that of safe limits because of crop stubble fires in the surrounding farm states.
Each Diwali, acrid smoke from ear-splitting firecrackers turns into a thick, toxic haze that envelopes New Delhi and its bustling satellite cities, home to millions of people.
The smog lingers for days as wind speeds drop in the winter months, adding to air pollution exacerbated by the burning of crop residues, vehicle exhausts and industrial gases.
“Let’s celebrate a smoke-free Diwali with this laser show and do our bit in making this festival pollution free,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in front page ads on Thursday.
He asked residents to gather in the shopping district of Connaught Place and watch the laser shows that will run for four days beginning Saturday.
While Diwali is celebrated throughout the country, New Delhi accounts for nearly half of India’s demand for firecrackers.
Although firecrackers push up pollution levels, authorities have been reluctant to ban them.
Some politicians, including a few members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, have said that Diwali is part of an ancient Hindu tradition and officials must respect the sentiments of Hindus.
“We support every initiative to help improve Delhi’s air but banning firecrackers on Diwali and letting fireworks go on Christmas and New Year is hypocrisy,” said Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga, a spokesman for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
In 2018, the Supreme Court allowed the use of only safe and green firecrackers, for a maximum two hours on Diwali, and only in designated areas such as parks. But authorities failed to enforce the decree and residents still burnt crackers late into the night.
“The prototype (of green crackers) was made available only recently and it would take a long time to scale up production,” said Rajiv Jain of the Delhi Fireworks Traders’ Association. “The transition will be rather slow due to the sheer size of the industry.”
Reporting by Neha Dasgupta and Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Chizu Nomiyama