No firecrackers for Diwali festivities in New Delhi this year

Dancers perform a traditional Indian dance during the Diwali festival of light celebrations, in Trafalgar Square, central London. Source: Reuters

DIWALI – one of the most important religious holidays in the Hindu calendar – will fall on Oct 18 this year, and preparations around the world are well in their way.

In India, millions of Indians typically decorate their homes with tealights, exchange sweets and murukku with neighbors and relatives, and adorn new clothes on the morning of the festival.

However, this year, firecrackers will be banned in the capital of New Delhi during Diwali celebrations. Firecrackers are a common tradition this time of year, but severe pollution that led to the closure of schools last year prompted India’s top court to temporarily halt sales of firecrackers.

New Delhi’s air quality has already hit “very unhealthy” levels, US embassy data shows. This is often blamed on burning of unwanted vegetation on farms in neighboring states usual at this time of year, worsened by fumes from fireworks.

The ban takes effect immediately and will run until Nov 1, said a panel of Supreme Court judges headed by Justice Arjan Kumar Sikri, adding that its impact on the region’s air quality would have to be examined after the festival.

“All temporary licences to sell firecrackers stand cancelled,” said Haripriya Padmanabhan, a lawyer representing the group that sought the ban.

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“People who had bought [fire] crackers will be able to [play with] them. Hopefully, they won’t do that,” she told Asian News International, a partner of Reuters Television.

“This is a nice step, let us look at other sources of #airpollution too,” global environmental group Greenpeace said on social network Twitter.

But others saw it as an attack on tradition. “We Indians will protest and burn crackers,” wrote one Twitter user, Ishkaran Bhandari. “We will uphold our culture, traditions and celebrate Diwali.”

Last November, about a million children were forced to stay home from school, thousands of workers reported sick and queues formed outside shops selling face masks as New Delhi struggled with its worst pollution for nearly 20 years.

Vehicle emissions and dust from construction sites were the factors blamed for that spike, besides firecrackers and farm burnings.

India and giant neighbor China together account for more than half of the 4.2 million deaths attributable to air pollution worldwide in 2015, a study by the US-based Health Effects Institute (HEI) showed.

Additional reporting by Reuters