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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Air pollution in Mumbai: Fine dust spoils the festival of lights

The celebrations for Diwali, the Hindu New Year, last four days. During this time there is a lot of banging, which causes noise and dirt.

People celebrate with fireworks.

Firecrackers and glitter, up to the smog warning level red: Dwali celebrations in Mumbai Photo: Francis Macarenhas/Reuters

MUMBAI taz | Mumbai lies under a gray veil, skyscrapers disappearing into the haze. A picture that becomes more commonplace again in the cooler months in the West Indian city of over a million people. A lot of firecrackers were set off for the Hindu New Year’s festival Diwali – despite the already high level of particulate matter in November. Shortly before the festival the air was a little better, but then the air quality index AQI climbed from 119 to an even unhealthier 150. The red warning level was lit on the AQI apps on.

This upset some residents of Mumbai. These days are dedicated to the triumph of good over evil, one day in particular to the goddess Lakshmi, who stands for luck and prosperity. So why would one voluntarily pollute the air when there is so much to celebrate?

That’s what Sunita, a Mumbai seamstress, thought too when countless fireworks were set off in the square in front of her house. For days. Noise and smoke bothered them, her children started coughing. “I am with Diwali as a colorful festival of lights grew up, now it’s becoming more and more of a fireworks festival,” she regrets.

But complaining loudly wouldn’t help, says Sunita. She tries to brighten up the holidays with traditional sweets. And hopes no one in the neighborhood gets hurt.

Construction work is stopped and firecracker times are set

Even before the festival, construction work on apartments and the new subway in Mumbai was stopped. It was too dusty in the west coast city. Tankers are currently spraying water on the streets twice a day to combat dust, but the effectiveness is controversial. Most recently, the times for fireworks and firecrackers were restricted: “According to the Supreme Court, fireworks may be set off during Diwali between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.,” announced the public order office.

However, not everyone stuck to this. The newspaper said that more than 800 people were arrested for shooting outside the permitted time.

Insurance employee Akash Rathore thinks this is exaggerated. Fireworks are just a part of it and are not only set off at Diwali. “We will keep this,” said the 45-year-old on the last day of the festival. Diwali is only a few days a year, but people should celebrate it properly.

Firecrackers pollute the air and make poor people poorer

But not everyone shares his passion. Sunil Gupta, a 60-year-old autorickshaw driver, cannot understand the popularity of firecrackers. It used to be a hobby of the rich, remembers Gupta. He just shakes his head at the fact that workers and small people spend their money on firecrackers today. “These people will still get sick from it, but they probably won’t give up their irrationality.”

He misses Mumbai’s fresh air. “There used to be hardly any air pollution here,” says Gupta. But the growing motorization and the many construction sites have changed that. “And then there were the fireworks.”

Housewife Lata, who lives in a Mumbai suburb, says she had trouble sleeping during the Diwali celebrations. It was too loud for her at night, despite the reluctance of her family and neighbors. “My little granddaughter was scared by the noises outside,” she says. This year her family is foregoing major celebrations due to a death. Still, it seemed to Lata that the noise was particularly intense this time.

Otherwise, she liked to decorate the house with lights, hang colorful lanterns and paint geometric rangoli patterns out of sand on her doorstep. This year it’s different. But she knows that Diwali marks the end of a series of Hindu festivals. New Year’s Eve is also celebrated in Mumbai, but it is less socially relevant – and should therefore be quieter, she hopes. And the forecasts from the fine dust app also promise: the air will soon get better.

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