The air in the Indian capital, New Delhi, is among the most polluted of any city in the world.
That is one reason India’s highest court has ordered a temporary ban on firecracker sales during Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.
The observance lasts five days. During this period, many Hindus light oil lamps in homes, windows and on housetops. Crowds gather to watch fireworks at night.
But the court order has angered many Indians as they prepare for Diwali, which starts October 19th. They say the order prevents them from taking part in a Hindu tradition: the lighting of fireworks.
Critics have likened the court’s action to banning Christmas trees on Christmas Day.
Yet supporters of the firecracker ban say the health of New Delhi’s 18-million residents is more important than traditions. They note that the city’s air can endanger human health at this time of the year because of slower winds and colder temperatures that trap more pollution.
When the Indian Supreme Court announced its decision on Monday, one of the judges said “let’s try at least one Diwali without firecrackers.”
The court banned fireworks last year, but only after the Diwali festival, when smog had already covered much of New Delhi. The ban was partly lifted last month. But it was put back in place after lawyers for three children asked the court to force the city to clean up its air.
Supporters of the ban hope the decision will keep air pollution from reaching the levels it did last year. In the days after the 2016 festival, air quality was almost 20 times the safe limit set by the World Health Organization. Many people became sick. That led New Delhi officials to take emergency measures, including closing schools.
Recently, officials temporarily banned trucks from the city, limited the movement of other motor vehicles and suspended work at building projects.
Opponents of the ban ask why only firecrackers are being targeted. They say it is more important to deal with the causes of air pollution, including the large number of vehicles and the burning of waste in neighboring states. They say the explosion of firecrackers for a few hours will not affect the air pollution problem.
But environmental experts say the ban will help at a time when the air is already full of pollutants. In 2015, researchers reported that the lungs of half of the children in New Delhi have been damaged because of poor air quality. Doctors blame the pollution for an increase in breathing disorders and heart attacks. They tell older adults to leave the city in winter.
Harsh Vardhan is India’s environment minister. He supports the ban. He has urged people to obey it, adding that the country should “give green Diwali and our environment a chance.”
But some members of his Hindu nationalist party BJP are angry about the court’s decision. One party official noted that the ban affects only the sale of firecrackers and not their use. Tajinder Singh Bagga said he plans to give firecrackers to poor children in the city, as he does each year. He said when he announced on social media that he would do so, “many people sent the message we also want to distribute, because of this ban, because people were in anger.”
Chetan Bhagat is a well-known writer in India. He said on Twitter that officials should “Regulate. Don’t ban. Respect traditions.”
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Anjana Pasricha reported this story from New Delhi. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted her report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
firecracker – n. a small paper tube containing an explosive
festival – n. a celebration or observance
resident – n. someone living in a place for some length of time
smog – n. a fog made heavier by smoke and chemicals
green – adj. relating to or being part of an environmental movement
regulate – v. to bring order; to govern; to make rules