Sparks fly as Delhi fireworks set off ‘hazardous’ smog alert

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An air quality index monitor shows an air quality reading in New Delhi on Thursday, November 8. (AFP)
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A sweeper cleans a road amid heavy smog in New Delhi on Thursday, November 8, a day after the Diwali festival. (AFP)
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Commuters travel amid heavy smog in New Delhi on Thursday, November 8, a day after Diwali celebrations. (AFP)
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A man cycles near the Indian President’s house amid heavy smog in New Delhi on Thursday, November 8, after a night of free-for-all Diwali fireworks. (AFP)
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Each year, smoke from festival firecrackers significantly adds to pollution levels in Delhi and its satellite cities. (Reuters)
Updated 09 November 2018
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Sparks fly as Delhi fireworks set off ‘hazardous’ smog alert

  • Two of the federal government’s indices showed pollution levels at ‘very poor’ and ‘severe’
  • These indices measure the concentration of tiny poisonous particulate matter

NEW DELHI: Fireworks celebrations marking the popular Hindu festival of Diwali lifted air pollution levels in New Delhi and surrounding areas to “hazardous” levels on Thursday. According to the website AirVisual, which monitors air pollution worldwide, the air quality index (AQI) reached 980 in the early hours of the morning, making India’s capital the most polluted city in the world.
An AQI below 50 is considered safe, while a reading above 300 is viewed as hazardous.
The Supreme Court had issued a ruling restricting the use of fireworks on Diwali night to two hours. However, many people defied the court order, with fireworks explosions leaving the capital blanketed in thick smog.
“It’s a matter of concern, but we hope that in time we will be able to bring the pollution levels down,” said Prasant Gargava of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), a government agency working under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
New Delhi residents and commuters, who are worst affected by the smog, rarely wear face masks, while many households still lack air purifiers. The lack of attention paid to toxic air stems partly from ignorance, apathy and crushing poverty, pollution activists say.
Government and local politicians have failed to effectively address the problem, according to social scientists and political analysts.
Polash Mukherjee, of the New Delhi-based Center of Science and Environment, told Arab News that “since Wednesday evening, air quality started deteriorating due to adverse weather conditions and excessive combustion. Fireworks celebrations worsened the situation.
“There are (some sections) of the government that are serious about addressing the pollution issue. The government, however, as a unit has not shown necessary commitment to tackle the problem.”
“Lack of social responsibility among people is also an issue. People talk about pollution, but at the same time keep on having three or four cars and violate the court and the government orders,” added Mukherjee.
V. Selvarajan, secretary of Green Circle, a group that campaigns on environmental issues, said: “Air pollution is a toxic mix of vehicle exhaust, smoke from burning crops from the neighboring states of Punjab and Haryana, and dust coming out of the thousands of construction sites. The pollution is intensified by winter weather patterns.”
He added: “Lifestyle changes are important for a solution. People in New Delhi believe in temporary solutions such as air filters, purifiers, instead of addressing the issue of air pollution which is mostly man-made. Car-pooling must be made mandatory.”
Meanwhile, daily life in the capital has been badly affected. Rahul Shukla, a jogger for many years, has stopped going outdoors. “The air quality affects your breathing and you feel restless while running. It is safer to be inside than outside,” he said.
Shukla, a lawyer, told Arab News that “if I don’t take care, my throat may bear the brunt of bad air quality and may affect my professional well-being.”
Dr. Bobby Bhalotra of the New Delhi-based Sir Gangaram Hospital said that “in recent days there has been a spike in cases of breathing problems, chest congestion and lung issues.”
The specialist in chest medicine said that “children are the worst sufferers. Their lungs are badly affected and this can have long-term implications, and might lead to cancer and other diseases.”


Three UK Conservatives quit party in protest at “disastrous Brexit“

Updated 14 min 13 sec ago
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Three UK Conservatives quit party in protest at “disastrous Brexit“

  • Three resign to join independent group in parliament
  • Blow to PM May in efforts to clinch deal on exit from EU

LONDON: Three lawmakers from Britain’s governing Conservatives quit over the government’s “disastrous handling of Brexit” on Wednesday, in a blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempts to unite her party around plans to leave the European Union.
The lawmakers, who support a second EU referendum and have long said May’s Brexit strategy is being led by Conservative euroskeptics, said they would join a new independent group in parliament set up by seven former opposition Labour politicians.
The resignations put May in an even weaker position in parliament, where her Brexit deal was crushed by lawmakers last month when both euroskeptics and EU supporters voted against an agreement they say offers the worst of all worlds.
While the three were almost certain to vote against any deal, the hardening of their positions undermines May’s negotiating position in Brussels, where she heads later to try to secure an opening for further work on revising the agreement.
With only 37 days until Britain leaves the EU, its biggest foreign and trade policy shift in more than 40 years, divisions over Brexit are redrawing the political landscape. The resignations threaten a decades-old two-party system.
“The final straw for us has been this government’s disastrous handling of Brexit,” the three lawmakers, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston, said in a letter to May.
Soubry later told a news conference that the Conservative Party had been taken over by right-wing, pro-Brexit lawmakers.
“The truth is, the battle is over and the other side has won. The right-wing, the hard-line anti-EU awkward squad that have destroyed every (Conservative) leader for the last 40 years are now running the ... party from top to toe,” she said.
May said she was saddened by the decision and that Britain’s membership of the EU “has been a source of disagreement both in our party and in our country for a long time.”
“But by ... implementing the decision of the British people we are doing the right thing for our country,” she said, referring to the 2016 referendum in which Britons voted by a margin of 52-48 percent in favor of leaving the EU.
Asked what May would say to others considering resigning, her spokesman said: “She would, as she always has, ask for the support of her colleagues in delivering (Brexit).”

INDEPENDENT GROUP
The three sat in parliament on Wednesday with a new grouping which broke away from the Labour Party earlier this week over increasing frustration with their leader Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit strategy and a row over anti-Semitism.
Another former Labour lawmaker joined their ranks late on Tuesday, and several politicians from both the main opposition party and Conservatives said they expected more to follow from both sides of parliament.
What unites most of the group of 11 is a desire to see a second referendum on any deal May comes back with, now that the terms of Brexit are known in detail — something the prime minister has ruled out.
For May’s Brexit plan, the resignations are yet another knock to more than two years of talks to leave the EU, which have been punctuated by defeats in parliament, rows over policy and a confidence vote, which she ultimately won.
Britain’s 2016 EU referendum has split not only British towns and villages but also parliament, with both Conservative and Labour leaders struggling to keep their parties united.
May has faced a difficult balancing act. Euroskeptic members of her party want a clean break with the bloc, pro-EU lawmakers argue for the closest possible ties, while many in the middle are increasing frustrated over the lack of movement.
Those who have resigned have long accused May of leaning too far toward Brexit supporters, sticking to red lines which they, and many in Labour, say have made a comprehensive deal all but impossible to negotiate.
But May will head to Brussels hoping that her team will get the green light to start more technical negotiations on how to satisfy the concerns of mostly Brexit supporters over the so-called Northern Irish backstop arrangement.
The “backstop,” an insurance policy to avoid a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland if London and Brussels fail to agree a deal on future ties, is the main point of contention in talks with Brussels.
British officials are hoping they can secure the kind of legal assurances that the backstop cannot trap Britain in the EU’s sphere to persuade lawmakers to back a revised deal.
But May’s argument she can command a majority in parliament if the EU hands her such assurances is getting weaker. A government defeat last week showed the euroskeptics’ muscle.
One pro-Brexit Conservative lawmaker, Andrew Bridgen, said: “I would find it very difficult to accept a legal document from the same (party) lawyer whose definitive advice four weeks ago was that we could be trapped in the backstop in perpetuity.”