Smog dims shine of India's festival of lights

Tue Oct 25, 2011 5:01am EDT
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By Anuja Jaiman

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Bharat Prakash has stayed indoors on Diwali day for the past four years to avoid the smog that envelopes Indian cities during the festival, which celebrates the triumph of good over evil with fireworks and small oil-filled clay lamps.

As the rest of the country celebrates the Festival of Lights, which falls on Wednesday this year, asthma sufferers like Prakash, 22, will be cooped up at home, dreading the blanket of smoke that worsens the already dire air quality.

"I don't step out of the house on Diwali nights," says Prakash, a marketing professional in Pune.

In New Delhi, the morning after Diwali always brings a blanket of thick white smog -- and the situation is getting worse.

A study conducted by the Central Pollution Control Board showed that noise and air pollution levels were higher during Diwali in 2010 than the previous year despite nationwide campaigns against firecrackers.

"It's a concern that pollution levels go up, noise levels go up, and the doctors in cities have also confirmed that hospital admissions during this time increase, due to symptoms related to pollution-related diseases," said Anumita Roychowdhury, at the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi.

"Every year during Diwali, pollution levels are quite high largely because of the firecrackers, but the traffic intensity also goes up during this time."

Improvements in air quality after Delhi imposed rules making auto-rickshaws and buses run off liquefied natural gas have been partly offset by new cars on the road -- and their numbers have nearly doubled over the last decade, thanks to rising incomes.   Continued...