Residents in India’s capital Delhi could face up to six months in prison if they are caught bursting firecrackers this Diwali.
The festival of lights is the most important annual event for Hindus and is celebrated with elaborate feasts, pompous parties and grand firework displays that have been blamed for polluting the air.
Hindus for centuries have been celebrating Diwali to mark the return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya, his place of birth, after completing 14 years in exile, by lighting earthen lamps and candles.
Firecrackers were introduced to the festival in the 18th century, when Maratha rulers organised firework displays for the general public — 400 years after they were first brought by Mongols to the country from China.
The state government and the country’s highest court banned crackers containing substances such as lead, arsenic and barium in 2018, but every year millions defy the bans and burst firecrackers, shrouding the city in a thick blanket of toxic smog.
The state government has also banned their production, storage and sale in a bid to help curb air and noise pollution levels.
It has imposed fines of between 200 rupees ($2.50) and 5,000 rupees ($60) and a prison sentence of up to three years for being caught selling or bursting crackers, Environment Minister Gopal Rai said.
The government has set up 408 teams of police officials and pollution officers to enforce the rules.
The city's police seized more than 2,200kg of firecrackers from across Delhi earlier this week.
Delhi is the world’s most polluted capital city.
Its air pollution was ranked one of the highest among 6,475 cities in 117 countries in 2021, according to a World Air Quality report released by Swiss firm IQAir in March.
The air quality level in the city was “very poor” on Friday evening, the Central Pollution Control Board said.
The Delhi government last month announced measures to tackle the surge in air pollution. A thick haze of eye-stinging smog engulfs the city every year between October and December.
In the financial capital Mumbai, police have banned the sale of firecrackers without licence, although citizens are allowed to burn “green fireworks”.
The green crackers are low-emission fireworks that have smaller shells than the usual versions and produce 30 per cent less particulate matter — microscopic particles that can enter human lungs and bloodstream.
They do not contain harmful chemicals such as lithium, arsenic, barium or lead and instead release water vapour.
In southern Chennai, authorities have allowed green crackers for one hour each in the morning and evening.
In the northern city of Chandigarh, residents will be allowed to burst crackers in the evening between 8pm and 10pm on Diwali.