NEW DELHI — Imagine Christmas without Christmas trees — that's how some in India are describing a Supreme Court order banning the sale of fireworks in New Delhi ahead of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.
The ruling is an effort to prevent a repeat of last year’s post-Diwali toxic smog that plunged the Indian capital into an air pollution emergency, forcing authorities to temporarily shut down construction sites and a power plant and close schools for three days.
According to the Hindu, a Supreme Court bench said, “Let’s try out at least one Diwali without firecrackers.”
The test-run this year, if successful, could result in restricted Diwali fireworks around the country in the future. To many, that signals a radical change in how Diwali has been celebrated for years and threatens the country’s Hindu traditions.
During Diwali, fireworks light up Indian skies, as families stock up on the latest combustive craze — from fiery spinning wheels to colorful rocket showers. In many parts of India, the festivities celebrate the homecoming of the Hindu god Ram after defeating a 10-headed demon king, symbolic of the triumph of good over evil.
The celebrations bring communities together but can cause huge environmental damage. Think America’s Fourth of July — but lasting for days.
Some said the Supreme Court’s ruling was unfair to India’s Hindu majority and went way too far. Best-selling Indian writer Chetan Bhagat, who lives in Mumbai, was quick to denounce the decision.
In 2016, post-Diwali pollution levels were so high that many air quality instruments could not even measure them. PM 2.5 particles, which are harmful to human health, spiked to over 16 times their safe limit. Air quality declines rapidly around Diwali time, also partly because farmers in surrounding regions burn crop stubble illegally.
Firework sales were already curbed after Diwali last year. Those who have bought fireworks already can still set them off, the court said.
Still, some welcomed the idea of a “Green Diwali,” arguing that festivities could continue without fireworks.