On fireworks, detailed rules on paper, several court orders

The temple fireworks display in Kerala that killed over 100 went ahead without permission, and with the blessings of politicians.

Written by Aneesha Mathur | Updated: April 18, 2016 7:34 am
Kolla, Kerala, Kerlaa fireworks, Kerala fireworks permissions, Kerala fire, Kerala temples, Kerala temple fireworks, Kerala temple fire, Kerala laws, Kerala news, India news A man walks past damaged structures at the spot where a massive fire broke out during a fireworks display at the Puttingal temple complex in Kollam, Kerala on April 11, 2016. (AP Photo)

What laws or rules govern the storage and display of fireworks?

The Explosives Act, 1884 and Explosives Rules of 2008 govern the display and storage – including storage areas and containers – of firecrackers. The Rules include basic fire safety norms such as not having flammable or sparking material close by, keeping water/fire extinguishers near, and having adequate escape doors. They also cover materials used in the manufacture of fireworks. In 1999, the central government also prescribed noise standards for firecrackers under the Environment Protection Act of 1986, and, following orders from the Supreme Court banned their use between 10 pm and 6 am. The 2008 Rules too specify how loud a firecracker can be.

Are there separate rules in each state regulating fireworks?

No. The 1884 Act and 2008 Rules apply throughout the country, even though a few states have enacted supplementary laws. The 2008 Rules – displayed on the web site of the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), the statutory explosives safety watchdog under the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce and Industry – are extremely detailed, and specify, among other things, the types of “authorised explosives” that can be manufactured, transported and displayed, and the requirements for the grant of licence for public displays of fireworks.

Are there different rules for private and public fireworks?

Yes, and also based on whether the firecrackers are being stored for sale. Under the 2008 Explosives Rules, no licence is needed for possession of fireworks up to 100 kg for own use and not for sale; and for the possession, for private use, gunpowder up to 5 kg, everywhere except in Bihar, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, where the latest fire tragedy has occurred. However, the firecrackers must be purchased only from licensed shops.

For a “public display” of fireworks, a licence must be obtained from the licensing authority at least seven days in advance.

Celebratory fireworks by a private person at, say, a wedding, do not come under “public display”, but any largescale display, including at Ramlilas, temple festivals, and melas, etc. requires a licence. No exemptions or relaxation of the basic requirements under the Rules is permitted.

Public displays are required to follow safety norms such as not displaying fireworks if the wind velocity exceeds 50 km/hr, or if control over spectators has been lost; constant supervision of the site where fireworks have been kept; protective clothing; ear defenders, safety glasses and other protective devices for those handling the fireworks; and adequate fire-fighting provisions in consultation with fire authorities.

Who is the licensing authority for the manufacture, sale, storage and transport of fireworks?

Up to a certain quantity, it is the District Magistrate or, where there is a Police Commissioner system (like in Delhi or Mumbai, etc.), the Commissioner. The manufacture of fireworks or gunpowder between 15 kg and 500 kg requires a licence from the Controller of Explosives, and larger units must be cleared by the Chief Controller of Explosives. Likewise, there are categories of licences to sell fireworks.

The 2008 Rules contain exhaustive definitions of fireworks and classes of explosives, and extensive do’s and don’ts for their manufacture, storage, sale and display. Chemical compositions of fireworks are described, and the permissible limits of the use of various chemicals set. Detailed safety requirements are laid down – they include not using flammable material for storage sheds for crackers; and a minimum distance of 3 m between sheds, and 50 m between a storage shed and the site of the fireworks display.

The licensing authority is also the implementing authority of the rules. In Delhi, No-Objection Certificates are required from the local police, landowning agency and the Fire department for a permanent fireworks shop licence. However, enforcing rules for manufacture and sale of crackers is easier than enforcing rules for display and bursting of crackers.

What have the courts said about fireworks?

The Supreme Court in 2001 set specific limits on decibel levels of firecrackers and, in 2005, held that the “excessive use of (firecrackers) has started to be a public hazard and violation of their fundamental rights (to a clean and healthy environment) as enshrined in the Constitution of India”. It refused to relax restrictions on the bursting of firecrackers on the night of Diwali and on other festivals, saying “if relaxation is allowed to one (community) there will be no justification for not permitting relaxation to others and if we do so the relaxation will become the rule.” Diwali, the 2005 judgment said, “is mainly associated with pooja… and… is considered as a festival of lights, not of noises and that shelter in the name of religion cannot be sought for, for bursting firecrackers”.

More recently, in November 2015, Delhi High Court compared the damage caused by firecrackers to firearms. “It is not as if firecrackers are capable of any less harm than an arm within the meaning of Arms Act. Owing to less stringent control on use, firecrackers are available far more easily than an arm and are rampantly used and which has over the years resulted in incidents of fire and injury caused by firecrackers, on the occasion of Diwali, having become a routine affair and multiplying annually,” it said.

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