- The Delhi minister accused BJP of instigating people to burst crackers
- Violations of Delhi's firecracker ban were widespread on Diwali evening
- Gopal Rai also blamed smoke from farm fires for Delhi's air pollution
As Delhi chokes under a cloud of toxic air - courtesy thousands who defied government orders banning firecrackers this Diwali - the national capital's Environment Minister Gopal Rai has lashed out at the BJP, accusing it of instigating people to "burst firecrackers on purpose".
"A large number of people did not burst firecrackers. I thank them all. But some people burst firecrackers on purpose. The BJP made them do it," he said this afternoon, declaring that the city's "base pollution level" had remained unchanged.
The BJP has yet to react to the charge.
Mr Rai also blamed smoke from 3,500 farm fires (to burn stubble) for the horrific air pollution in the city - which, fueled by a combination of these and other factors, spike to off-the-chart levels this time every year, triggering a spat between the ruling party and the opposition.
According to the Ministry of Earth Sciences' air quality forecast agency SAFAR, stubble burning accounted for 36 per cent of Delhi's Friday PM2.5 levels, the highest this season.
SAFAR also lists the overall AQI for Delhi at 531, which indicates 'severe' pollution.
Violations of the Delhi government's firecracker ban were widespread,yesterday evening.
According to data from the Central Pollution Control Board dashboard, by 8 pm PM2.5 levels at the Anand Vihar station was 466 micrograms. At the Burari crossing (the Haryana border) it was 500. At Chandi Chowk it was 358, at Mandir Marg it was 489 and at Lodhi Road it was 500 again.
By 10 pm the readings at these locations had all hit 500.
Readings from the World Air Quality Index website (a non-profit organisation measuring AQI levels) were even worse, with PM2.5 levels in several areas hitting 999.
Overall AQI levels have remained at severe levels this morning.
At 2 pm, the PM 2.5 level at various parts of the city - Chandi Chowk, Lodhi Road, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and Mandir Marg - were all touching 500, and the AQI reading was 'severe'.
This "affects healthy people and seriously impacts those with existing diseases", the CPCB says. Airborne PM2.5 can cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases such as lung cancer.
The World Health Organization deems anything over an annual average of 5 micrograms unsafe.
However, similar levels were reported from cities near Delhi as well, with AQI in Noida (466), Ghaziabad (450), Faridabad (460) and Gurgaon (478) all well above recommended levels.
Noida and Ghaziabad are in Uttar Pradesh, and Faridabad and Gurgaon are in Haryana.
Both states are ruled by the BJP and their respective governments had also banned firecrackers - a ban that, like in Delhi, was violated in spectacular fashion last night.
Experts, including those at SAFAR, say the condition is unlikely to improve before Sunday, with the share of stubble burning to pollution levels to increase to 40 per cent by Saturday.
The ban on firecrackers before and after Diwali is a contentious subject, with many people refusing to accept what they feel are limitations on how they celebrate the festival; this is despite overwhelming scientific evidence underlining the dangers of breathing toxic air.
Last week the Supreme Court said these celebrations could not come at the cost of people's health, but stopped short of a full ban, saying only those with Barium salts were prohibited. It did, however, state that top officials at various levels "shall be held personally responsible" for any lapses.
The court is scheduled to hear the matter on November 30.
With input from PTI, Reuters