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The Supreme Court today refused to impose a complete ban on firecrackers ahead of Diwali but has imposed certain conditions on the sale and manufacture of crackers.
The Bench was prompted to impose these restrictions after taking note of studies which indicated that the air quality in Delhi, noise levels and health conditions did worsen during Diwali, even if it was not a statistically significant difference.
In such circumstances, the Court opined that its intervention was warranted, even if firecrackers are not the sole reason for such pollution. As observed in its order,
“The moot question in such a scenario is as to whether the menace due to fireworks during Diwali or other festivals/occasions should be left untouched and the Court should allow the situation to prevail as it is, only because it is not the sole reason for causing air pollution? Answer has to be in the negative.“
Among the various factors which prompted the Court to take this view were the irreversible adverse health effects caused due to the use of firecrackers during Diwali, even if they are only used for a few days.
“…it can be gathered that when PM2.5 crosses the normal limits, even if it remains in the air for few days, it becomes severe health hazard thereby causing serious health problems. Unfortunately such problems are virtually irreversible, which means that a person whose health gets affected because of this particulate has a long suffering. In view thereof, argument in opposition that air quality that gets worsened during Diwali remains only for few days would be of no consequence as even in few days it causes severe harm to the health of the people, that too for prolonged duration.”
The Bench also took note of the acute psychological, mental and physical effects that the use of firecrackers has on animals. The Court concluded that these findings were sufficient to negate arguments that there was an absence of scientific proof of the adverse affect of firecrackers during Diwali.
Further, given the fundamental right to health under Article 21 of the Constitution, the Court ultimately relied on the precautionary principle to argue that the use of firecrackers must be regulated. These concerns assume priority even if the use of firecrackers was part of religious practice and their ban would entail economic losses.
Therefore, the Court has ordered as follows:
– Only green crackers i.e. crackers with reduced emissions, are permitted to be manufactured and sold. The production and sale of crackers other than green crackers have been banned. Also banned are joined firecrackers/series crackers/laris since they cause huge noise and solid waste problems.
– Time limits have been fixed for fireworks. Fireworks can only take place between 8 and 10 in the evening on occasions such as Diwali when they usually take place. With respect to Christmas and New Year, when fireworks start around midnight, it can only be between 11.55 pm and 12.30 am.
– Prior government permission has to be obtained before community fire cracking in Delhi. While allowing the same, areas should also be designated for using fire crackers. Other states are expected to explore the feasibility of similar measures.
– Sale of crackers can only be through licensed vendors.
– Online sale of crackers has been banned. E-commerce websites including Flipkart, Amazon etc. are prohibited from accepting online orders or online sales of crackers. Any violation of this order would invite penal action for contempt of court.
– Barium salts in firecrackers are banned.
– The Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), in association with Fireworks Research and Development Centre (FRDC) is expected to furnish a report reviewing the clinical composition of firecrackers.
– PESO is expected to ensure that only permitted firecrackers adhering to the legal sound limits are sold. Licenses of manufacturers selling firecrackers which are not permitted should be suspended.
– The Pollution Control authorities have also been directed to monitor the effects of using firecrackers this Diwali so that more data on pollution can be obtained to help in controlling the same.
Notably, the Court has clarified that this firecracker ban is a prima facie conclusion based on the available research. It is not the conclusive determination of the Court, given the inadequate information on pollution and allied aspects before it. All the same, the Court opined that, prima facie, it does not find much merit in arguments made against the ban.
The Supreme Court had reserved its order in this case on August 28 after hearing the petitioners, the firecracker manufacturers as well as the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
The petitioners, represented by Gopal Sankaranarayanan, in the case, had sought a ban on manufacture, sale, and possession of firecrackers across the country and had cited the worrying levels of pollution in the country while seeking this ban.
Firecracker manufacturers had opposed the blanket ban that was sought and Senior Counsel Aryama Sundaram, arguing for a manufacturers association had told the Court that firecrackers are not the sole reason for the spike in the air pollution levels and that such a ban would adversely affect the right to livelihood of those employed by this industry.
The Court, too, had opined during the proceedings that a blanket ban may not be the answer and stated that a balance needs to be struck between the fundamental right to life and clean environment and the right to livelihood. However, the Court had taken note of the abysmally high levels of particulate matter in the air and had termed this a severe problem.
In October 2017, the Supreme Court had imposed a temporary ban on the sale of firecrackers in Delhi NCR. This ban, the Court had said, was to test the effectiveness of such a ban on pollution levels, if any.