Diwali, Crackers and Pollution – Truth uncovered! (Part II): Do crackers cause pollution?

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-Ashish Naredi
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Whether the crackers cause pollution or not, and if they do, then what is the extent of it – is the crux of the case against crackers and the most contentious issue in public debates.
We shall take a two-pronged approach to this. First, we shall give details of the data presented before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Then we shall present an analysis of five years data for Delhi which is publicly available through CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) portal- and trust the readers to draw their own conclusions.
The following data sources have been relied upon by the Supreme Court to reach its conclusions:
1. An NGT (National Green Tribunal) order passed on 10.11.2016 on causes of pollution in Delhi.
2. A report submitted by IIT Kanpur in January 2016 titled “Comprehensive Study on Air Pollution and Green House Gases in Delhi” submitted to govt. of NCT Delhi.
3. Affidavits filed by CPCB
4. Report of Supreme Court appointed Committee headed by chairperson of CPCB
5. Affidavit of one Dr. Arvind Kumar filed onon August 14, 2018
6. Affidavit of an animal rights activist, Gauri Maulekhi
7. News reports; and
8. Direct experience of the Hon’ble judges with Delhi air
Summarised below are the major findings of the above.
1. Causes for pollution in Delhi as listed by NGT
Given below is an extract of a table from para 10 from SC judgment of September 12, 2017

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• As can be seen – Fireworks is not even mentioned as a cause in this.

2. Causes of Pollution as given by IIT Kanpur
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Bursting of Fireworks does not find a mention as a cause for pollution, even in this report!
Besides the above, there are several other critical aspects of this study that need to be highlighted. These are:
• The study extended over two full seasons - both winter and summer- in Delhi.
• The study lists out not only the severity of the pollution but also scientifically lists out the main contributors or sources of this pollution.
• The source of the pollutant isidentified by a chemical analysis of the pollutants captured in the equipment. For example: presence of Si (Silica), among others, points towards soil and road dust as the pollutants. Likewise,fly-ash towards power plants and so on.
• Thus, this report may be treated as most scientific, comprehensive and credible as far as pollution in Delhi is concerned.
3. Affidavits filed by CPCB
CPCB made three significant points:
I. That oxides of Sulphur and Nitrogen (SO2 and NO2)remained within limits during Diwali.
II. That the levels of PM 10 (Particulate Matter less than 10 Microns) and PM 2.5 (Particulate Matter less than 2.5 Microns) did see a significant increase during Diwali period and were the main reasons for pollution.
III. That these enhanced levels of Particulate Matter, dissipated within two or three days (leaving no scope for long term impact).
4. Report of Supreme Court appointed committee to study impact on health of citizens
 Findings of this committeeare summarised in this extract of para 21 from the 2018 judgment:

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By saying that the relationship between pollution on Diwali and impact on health was “not significant statistically,” the committee was basically saying that there was no causal relationship between the two or in simpler terms that Pollution did not have any adverse impact the health of people during Diwali.(“Statistical significance” is a technical term/concept in statistics, used to differentiate a mere correlation from a causal relationship).
5. Findings of all others, Dr. Arvind Kumar, Gauri Maulekhi, news reports and direct experience of SC judges
• This section of people reported great increase in pollution, increased inflow of patients in their clinics with various breathing ailments (Dr. Arvind) and extreme stress caused to animals (Gauri Maulekhi) in personal affidavits filed with the court.
• However, the findings reported by these individualsare more a narration of personal experience and not the findings of any scientific study with verifiable data as is the case with the findings of NGT, IIT and CPCB.
Having read through each of the above reports and submissions, the author felt a need to further check the levels of pollution all through the year and not just around Diwali.Data of past five years from 2015 to 2020 (publicly available on CPCB website) was thus analysed.The findings are surprising, if not shocking!
There emerged two critical points that did not find much consideration in the court proceedings.
1. While it’s true, as CPCB says, that Diwali days did see enhanced levels of pollution, what the CPCB missed pointing out is that other Non-Diwali days saw pollution levels much higher than those seen during Diwali - in some cases even double of that seen during Diwali. (See Table below of PM 10 levels from 2015 to 2020 at RK Puram, Delhi monitoring station).

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• Pollution Levels on next day of Diwali is marked in red whereas pollution levels on other Non-Diwali days is marked in blue.
• The levels like 825 seen on 7-Nov-2017 or 933 seen on 12-Jun-2018, can by no stretch of imagination be attributed to Diwali. But what can they be attributed to then? Unfortunately, there has been no discussion on this.
• Can anyone say with any degree of certainty that factors responsible for increase in pollution on 12-Jun-2018 and other such similar days, were not in play during Diwali?
The other aspect missed is that:
2. Everyone is focussing on just 2-3 days of the year while ignoring the remaining 362 odd days!
• The two tables given below - summarisingthe number of healthy and unhealthy days in Delhi for the period 2015 to 2020 - can perhaps help underscore this point.

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• The Table of PM 2.5 levels above, shows that Delhi had a total of 1255 unhealthy to hazardous days (632 + 469 + 154) in the past five years.
• Table of PM 10 levels, similarly shows Delhi having had a total of 854 (326 +340+188) unhealthy to hazardous days in this period.
• Sadly, however, everyone from public and media to government, courts and pollution control agencies- concentrated only on 10 out of these 1255 days – that too without much success and after spoiling the entire joy and fun of one of the biggest festivals of this nation!
With the above discussion arises a more important question which all of us need to ask:
Why are all those, with an avowed agenda of fighting for the “right to clean air,” almost singularly, if not obsessively, focussed on just 10 out of the 1255 polluted days that we’ve had in the past five years? That too when many of 1245 days,which they do not even seek to address, have pollution levels much higher than the 10 days which they, at least, make a pretence of addressing.
(Next – Analysis of the Supreme court judgment.)