The Supreme Court Friday rejected appeals challenging the National Green Tribunal (NGT) order banning the sale and use of firecrackers during the Covid-19 pandemic in places with poor Air Quality Index (AQI).
A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and Sanjiv Khanna, however, said state authorities can permit the sale as and when the AQI improves, and that the NGT order does not contemplate a ban on manufacturing activities.
“Grievance was expressed that manufacturing activities will also be prohibited in the concerned area if the AQI falls. The impugned order does not deal with that situation. If the situation is covered by general directions of the Supreme Court, it must be followed in letter and spirit,” the SC said, turning down the appeals.
Challenging the NGT order, Senior Advocate P S Narasimha submitted that the Tribunal had said there will be a total ban on firecrackers during Covid-19.
But Justice Khanwilkar pointed out that “it is only dependent on air quality category. If its severe it will not be allowed”. He added that it is “only furthering the cause of our earlier judgment. There is no ban”.
Rooting for a “balanced approach” to tackle the issue of air pollution on account of the bursting of crackers, the SC had in October 2018, in the case Arjun Gopal vs Union of India, refused to order a complete ban on their sale and use, but imposed stringent conditions regarding their composition and usage. It ruled that only crackers with reduced emission (improved crackers) and green crackers which stick to permissible noise emission standards be manufactured and sold henceforth. It also banned their sale online and directed that they can be sold only through licensed traders.
Narasimha pointed out that the 2018 decision permitted sale of green crackers.
The SC said NGT had considered the same and adopted a moderate stance. “This is restricted to Covid times. These are reasonable… It’s not like a blanket ban has been imposed… This is not a total ban. There is a misreading of the judgment,” said Justice Khanwilkar.
Advocate J Sai Deepak, appearing for a seller, said the SC had in 2018 taken a categorical position regarding green crackers irrespective of the severity air quality, but the NGT order is at loggerheads with the SC decision. He submitted that if any modification needed to be done, it had to be done in the 2018 order and in the matter before the NGT. Praying for clarification on the situation, he said executive authorities were reluctant to take a decision due to the confusion.
But, the court did not agree, and said the ban is always a subjective matter, and the seller cannot say he did not know something happened. “It was a graded criteria, get a license and sell somewhere else,” said Justice Khanna.
Advocate Sai Deepak then pointed out that “as per a IIT Kanpur report, fire cracker is not even in the list of top 15 factors which contributes to air pollution”.
To this, Justice Khanwilkar replied, “Do you need IIT to understand that fire crackers impact your lungs? Ask someone staying in Delhi what happens during Diwali. We have come a long way from 2017, and we are in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.”