Delhi air quality reaches hazardous levels following Diwali celebrations

ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward hears how newborn babies are taking their first breaths of air, polluted with the equivalent of 20 cigarettes

Residents in India’s capital awoke on Friday morning to a blanket of toxic smog, breathing in hazardous air, after celebrations for Diwali last night.

One doctor told ITV News the levels were so high that for babies born in Delhi on Friday, they would breathe in the equivalent of more than 20 cigarettes.

The city already has one of the worst air qualities in the world, but Friday saw its highest reading of the year so far as people defied a ban on fireworks and celebrated the festival late into Thursday night.

After the terrible Covid losses the country suffered this year, many felt an added importance to this Hindu festival celebrating light and new beginnings. 

Millions defied a ban on fireworks to celebrate Diwali Credit: AP

But the next morning the capital choked as the Air Quality Index (AQI) – which measures the concentration of poisonous particulate on a scale from zero to 300 plus - was recorded by ITV News at a staggering 502. 

A good reading is anything between 0 – 50 and up to 100 is "satisfactory".

It indicates "severe" conditions that can affect even healthy people and especially those with existing respiratory diseases.

Residents complained of itchy throats and watery eyes.  

The thick layer of smog also caused havoc on the roads, with cars and buildings barely visible. 

The government attempts to impose a ban on fireworks every year, but these are rarely enforced. 

It is not just Diwali that is to blame for the toxic air that kills than a million Indians every year. 

It is the lethal gases coming from diesel generators, cars, and coal plants as well as from crop stubble being burnt by farmers.  

Credit: AP

One doctor told ITV News that he now regularly see patients who are suffering from the affects of toxic air.

Dr Arvind Kumar said his chest patients used to be primarily smokers, now he treats children with pollution congested lungs. 

The medic said children born in Delhi on Friday would be breathing the equivalent of more than 20 cigarettes on their first day of life.

Children born in Delhi on Friday will inhale more than 20 cigarettes worth of toxic air

India is the world's third largest polluter and for CO2 emissions, trailing behind only the United States of America and China. 

Officials there have been criticised for not doing enough to tackle pollution and air quality.  

On Monday, the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow that India is the only major economy delivering on its promises.

He added that India would achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070 - two decades after the date set by other countries.