The National Green Tribunal on Monday imposed a blanket ban on the sale of firecrackers in Delhi-National Capital Region, as air quality in Delhi remained in the “severe” category for the fifth consecutive day, PTI reported. The ban, which will come into effect from midnight, will remain in place till November 30.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel clarified that the ban would also apply to all cities and towns in the country where the average of ambient air quality in November (as per available data of last year) fell below the “poor”category.

An index reading between 0 and 50 puts the air quality in “good” category. A reading between 51 and 100 puts it in the “satisfactory” category, between 101 and 200 in the “moderate” category, and between 201 and 300 in the “poor category”. The air quality is said to be “very poor” when the index value falls between 300 and 400. An index value between 400 and 500 puts the quality in the “severe” category.

In cities and towns where the air quality is “moderate” or below, only green crackers will be allowed to be sold, the tribunal said. Besides, bursting of firecrackers would be allowed only within a limited time period of two hours during festivals such as Diwali, Chhath, New Year/ Christmas eve. The NGT said the state government would be left in-charge to decide the timings for the same.

“At other places, ban/restrictions are optional for the authorities but if there are more stringent measures under orders of the authorities, the same will prevail,” the bench said.

The NGT also directed all states and Union Territories to initiate special drives to contain air pollution from all sources in view of the potential of aggravation of Covid-19.

Hours later, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation also banned bursting of firecrackers in public and private places in the city ahead of Diwali. However, use of soundless firecrackers like “phooljhadi” and “anar” would be allowed between 8pm to 10 pm on Diwali, according to ANI.

On Friday, data from the Central Pollution Control Board showed that the air quality index in Delhi was at 469 at 9 am, indicating “severe” conditions that pose a risk of respiratory problems. Any reading above 100 on a scale of 500 is progressively unsafe for health, according to the agency’s readings.

The AQI in the neighbouring cities of Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Noida, Greater Noida and Gurugram also rose past 460.

While the pollution control board uses 24-hour average data, the Ministry of Earth Sciences’ SAFAR, or System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research reports real-time figures. The government-run monitoring agency said the overall AQI struck 527 in Delhi at 10.30 am.

A residential area is seen shrouded in smog in New Delhi on November 9. (Credit: Danish Siddiqui/ Reuters)

Delhi’s air pollution typically worsens in October and November due to farmers burning off stubble in neighbouring states, unfavourable wind speed and traffic fumes in the city. Firecrackers ignited for Diwali adds to the problem.

This year’s haze comes as the Capital battles a new surge in coronavirus infections, and health experts fear that people with chronic medical conditions could become more vulnerable to the disease. Delhi on Sunday recorded its highest single-day increase in cases with 7,745 new infections in 24 hours. With this, the national Capital’s tally rose to 4,38,529, including 41,857 active cases and 6,989 deaths.

With fears growing about rising infections, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday had banned firecrackers from being used this month during Diwali.

Besides the Capital, the Karnataka and Chandigarh governments also took similar decisions on Friday, followed by, Odisha, Rajasthan, Sikkim and West Bengal administrations who had made the announcements earlier.

The state government of Haryana had also initially imposed a complete ban on the sale of firecrackers ahead of the festival. However on Sunday, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said that people in the state would be allowed to burst firecrackers for two hours on Diwali. Use of firecrackers would be allowed only between 8pm to 10 pm on Diwali and Gurpurab, and from 11.55 pm to 1230 am on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, an order from the Haryana government stated.