NEW DELHI, Nov 12 (Reuters) – Toxic haze began circulating in New Delhi on Sunday as residents of the city of 20 million, grappling with heavy pollution recently, defied a ban on firecrackers in on the night of Diwali, the annual festival. Hindu festival of light.

Plumes of smoke were visible in the sky as revelers set off firecrackers in the evening to mark the country’s biggest festival.

Every year, government authorities or the Indian Supreme Court ban firecrackers, but these bans rarely seem to be enforced.

The air quality index (AQI) of the capital’s 40 monitoring stations averaged 219 on a scale of 500, according to data from the federal pollution control bureau, indicating “poor” conditions that can affect most people with prolonged exposure.

AQI data also showed that the concentration of toxic particles “PM2.5” in a cubic meter of air was around 100 micrograms per cubic meter, 20 times higher than the maximum recommended by the Organization World Health Organization (WHO).

Globally, air pollution was worst in Kolkata, in eastern India, while Delhi was the fifth most polluted city, according to Swiss group IQAir.

Doctors say air quality is likely to deteriorate on Monday as smoke from firecrackers lingers in the air, potentially causing itchy eyes and throat irritation.

“I see my patients are in distress. As a society, we have not understood the value of clean air,” said Desh Deepak, senior consultant at Delhi’s Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital.

Some Hindus are unhappy with the ban on firecrackers on Diwali, which they see as an attempt to prevent them from observing their religious holidays.

Earlier in the day, Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai had urged citizens to avoid firecrackers to prevent citizens from having respiratory problems later.

Just before the weekend, a spell of rain brought some relief to the city, where the AQI fell below 160 after hovering around 400-500 over the past week.

The world’s most polluted capital typically faces thick smog during the winter months as particles become trapped in the cold air, leading to increased cases of respiratory distress.

Reporting by Neha Arora; Editing by Hugh Lawson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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