A toxic haze began to circulate in New Delhi on Sunday as people in the city of 20 million, which has struggled with heavy pollution recently, defied a ban on firecrackers on the night of Diwali, the annual Hindu festival of light.

Smoke plumes were visible across the sky as revellers let off firecrackers in the evening to mark the country’s biggest festival. Every year government authorities or India’s Supreme Court impose bans on firecrackers – but only rarely do those bans appear to be enforced.The Air Quality Index (AQI) across all 40 monitoring stations in the capital averaged 219 on a scale of 500, according to the federal pollution control board data, indicating “poor” conditions that can affect most people on prolonged exposure.The AQI data also showed that the concentration of “PM2.5” poisonous particulate matter in a cubic metre of air was around 100 micrograms per cubic meter – 20 times higher than the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended maximum. Globally, air pollution was the worst in India’s eastern city of Kolkata, while Delhi was the fifth-most polluted, according to Swiss group IQAir.

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