Delhi's air quality plunged into the poor category on Monday after late-night bursting of crackers even as a political slugfest erupted over the issue with the AAP and the BJP blaming each other for it.
Squandering the relief due to rain, Delhi recorded a jump in pollution levels and a smoky haze returned on Monday morning after residents flouted the ban on firecrackers on Diwali night.
Delhi recorded its best air quality on Diwali day in eight years on Sunday, with its 24-hour average Air Quality Index (AQI) settling at 218 at 4 pm but the relief was short-lived as the AQI on Monday was recorded at 358 (very poor).
Delhi recorded an AQI of 312 on Diwali last year, 382 in 2021, 414 in 2020, 337 in 2019, 281 in 2018, 319 in 2017 and 431 in 2016, according to CPCB data.
According to IQAir, a Swiss company that specialises in air quality monitoring, Delhi was the most polluted city in the world on Monday, followed by Lahore and Karachi in Pakistan. Mumbai and Kolkata ranked fifth and sixth among the most polluted cities in the world.
The concentration of fine, lung-damaging particulate matter PM2.5 and PM10 increased by 45 per cent and 33 per cent respectively on Diwali compared to last year, according to an analysis by the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC).
The pollution control body also said nearly all air quality monitoring stations in the national capital recorded an increase in pollution levels on Diwali day compared to the previous year.
Delhi's 24-hour average PM10 concentration on Diwali (Sunday) stood at 430 micrograms per cubic metre, an increase from 322 micrograms per cubic metre last year, and 748 micrograms per cubic metre in 2021, the DPCC report showed.
Even as the people of Delhi reeled under polluted conditions, politicians traded barbs over bursting of firecrackers on Diwali in the city, with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) accusing the BJP of encouraging people to flout the Supreme Court ban on crackers.
Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai alleged that people associated with the BJP instigated residents to burn firecrackers on Diwali, leading to an overnight increase of more than 100 points in the national capital's air quality index.
At a press conference here, he said the firecrackers burnt in Delhi were sourced from Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, and that certain individuals, including police personnel from these states, permitted the transportation of those firecrackers to the city.
"Delhi would not have been suffering had these states implemented the ban on firecrackers and their police done their duty properly," Rai said.
Delhi BJP vice president Kapil Mishra called Rai's statement on air pollution "shameful".
"It's foolish to hold crackers responsible for air pollution. A week ago, Delhi's air quality index was around 400-500. Post Diwali, it's 296. If crackers caused pollution, then Gaza would have the highest level of pollution. There should be a fight against pollution," he said.
On Sunday, Mishra hailed people for defying the cracker ban.
"Proud of You Delhi. These are voices of resistance, voices of freedom and democracy. People are bravely defying unscientific, illogical, dictatorial ban. Happy Diwali," he said in a post on X on Sunday.
BJP spokesperson Shehzad Poonawalla in a post on X accused the AAP and the opposition alliance INDIA of targeting Hindus and Diwali.
"AAP & I.N.D.I alliance now targets Hindus & Diwali," he said. "Are we surprised?" He said that there were 900 cases of stubble burning on Diwali in Punjab despite Supreme Court warnings. "Over all there have been above 23,000 incidents of parali burning in Punjab."
The BJP leader, formerly associated with the Congress, claimed dust, industries and construction, vehicular pollution, and biomass burning were the chief contributors to the city's pollution.
"What did you do about this in the last 9 years? Shri Gopal Rai Stop abusing Hindus for your fault," he said.
Rai also announced that stringent measures, including a ban on construction work and the entry of polluting trucks into Delhi, under Stage IV of the Centre's air pollution control plan will continue to be in force in Delhi till further orders.
He added that the Delhi government has decided to extend its campaign to control dust pollution till November 30 and launch a month-long drive against open burning of waste from November 14.
The minister said these steps have been taken based on suggestions from experts who have predicted worsening of meteorological conditions which could allow accumulation of pollutants over the next three to four days.
Rai also said a call on the implementation of the odd-even car rationing scheme will be taken only after the air quality reaches the "severe plus" category (AQI above 450).