NEW DELHI • After India's biggest fireworks party of the year, Delhi awoke to a pollution hangover yesterday, with hazardous levels of toxic particles in the air.
A thick smog engulfed the capital's landmarks such as the Red Fort and India Gate while drivers experienced visibility problems amid the haze that built up after the Deepavali holiday weekend.
With the pollution threat growing over the past decade, the Supreme Court had earlier banned most fireworks for the Hindu festival of lights. However, few revellers followed the order.
Firecrackers and rockets lit up the night sky and left clouds of smoke, adding to emissions from cars and trucks as well as stubble fires lit by farmers around Delhi that have made it the world's most polluted capital.
Tens of thousands of people set off firecrackers into the early hours of yesterday, pushing the government air quality index beyond the top recordable level of 999.
While the pollution was less serious than in previous years, the amount of the most harmful PM2.5 pollutants was still more than 20 times the international safe levels at several locations in the city of 20 million people during commuting hours.
Experts have said the toxic cocktail that hits Delhi and other Indian cities each winter causes the premature deaths of more than one million people each year.
Weather officials said moderate winds will help clean the city's air but that the increased number of fires on farms in Haryana and Punjab states was a particular threat.
Thousands of farmers in Haryana burn their rice and wheat stubble in between planting new crops sending clouds of smoke towards Delhi.
According to experts, this contributes a fifth of the PM2.5 pollution that hits each year, while the millions of vehicles on the roads and unregulated construction and factory emissions are the major cause.
The government has taken a slew of anti-pollution measures in recent years, including shutting down thermal power plants and banning construction during the pollution season.
Next month, a bid to reduce road traffic will be introduced, with odd and even registration plates allowed on Delhi roads on alternate days.