The Supreme Court Monday reinstated the ban on sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR, saying that there was “direct evidence of deterioration of air quality at alarming levels” every year during Diwali on account of bursting of firecrackers. A three-judge bench, headed by Justice A K Sikri, upheld the November 11, 2016 Supreme Court order, suspending all licences that “permit sale of fireworks wholesale and retail within the territory of NCR”.
The court said that last year’s order was made after Diwali, and hence there has been no chance of testing its effect on air quality so far. The bench, which also included Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre and Justice Ashok Bhushan, said, “We are of the view that the order suspending the licences should be given one chance to test itself in order to find out as to whether there would be positive effect of this suspension, particularly during Diwali period.”
The November 11, 2016 order had come on a petition by three children, Arjun Gopal, Aarav Bhandari and Zoya Rao Bhasin. However, on September 12, 2017, a two-judge bench of Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta, while hearing a plea by some firecracker manufacturers, modified the 2016 order and allowed temporary licences for sale of crackers in Delhi-NCR, subject to a maximum of 500 licences for Delhi, and 50 per cent of what was allowed in 2016 for NCR. The court allowed them to sell firecrackers, subject to compliance with its directions and with the Explosives Rules. The bench, however, added that this might require a review after Diwali, depending on the air quality then.
However, this was again challenged in court by the children, on the ground that it would lead to air pollution in Delhi-NCR which, in turn, posed serious health risks. Their counsel, Gopal Sankaranarayanan, who is also Arjun’s father, contended that the “previous order dated November 11, 2016 was passed immediately after Diwali. But the effect of that order would not be discernible as in the judgment dated September 12, 2017, the said order stands relaxed. It was pleaded that at least for one Diwali season, this suspension should have continued in order to find out the effect thereof”.
Agreeing with the petitioner, the court said, “Insofar as adverse effects of burning of crackers during Diwali are concerned, those have been witnessed year after year. The air quality deteriorates abysmally and alarmingly and the city chokes thereby. It leads to closing the schools and the authorities are compelled to take various measures on emergent basis, when faced with ‘health emergency’ situation. This very situation had occurred on the very next morning after Diwali in 2016. It resulted in passing the order dated November 11, 2016. This order prevailed during the year but the impact and effect of this order remains to be tested on Diwali days.”
The bench added that the September 12 order would take effect only from November 1 this year, that is after Diwali. “Going by these considerations, we are of the opinion that the judgment dated September 12, 2017 passed by this court should be made effective only from November 1, 2017. To put it clearly, though we are not tweaking with the various directions contained in the orders dated September 12, 2017, the effect of that order would not be given during this Diwali and, therefore, we are making it effective only from November 01, 2017.”
The judgement added that all temporary licences issued in pursuance of the September 12 order will be “suspended forthwith”. Senior counsel C A Sundaram, who appeared for the manufacturers, contended that bursting of crackers was not the only cause of air pollution. The court agreed with this and said, “It cannot be denied that there are various other factors which contribute to the air pollution in Delhi and NCR. There is a need to tackle those factors as well.”
“However, what is the immediate impact of fireworks and firecrackers during Diwali is an altogether different aspect. To this effect, nothing relevant is produced. On the contrary, we have the direct evidence of deterioration of air quality at alarming levels, which happens every year. As already pointed out above, burning of these firecrackers during Diwali in 2016 had shot up PM levels by three times, making Delhi the worst city in the world, insofar as air pollution is concerned. Direct and immediate cause thereof was burning of crackers during Diwali,” it added.
The court also referred to campaigns by various government agencies to create awareness in the general public about the ill-effects of bursting crackers and said, “Thus, there is virtually a consensus in the society that crackers should not be burnt during Diwali, which can be celebrated with equal fervour by various other means as well.”
The bench remarked that when such causes are brought in the court, there is resistance from certain quarters. “It cannot be denied that there are adequate statutory provisions, aid whereof can be taken to ban the sale of these crackers. It is one of the functions of the judges, in a democracy, to bridge the gap between law and the society. Here, fortunately, there is no such gap and the court is only the facilitator in invoking the law to fulfil the need of the society,” the judgement said.