Taking a “balanced approach” to tackle air pollution ahead of Diwali, the Supreme Court Tuesday restricted the use of fireworks during all festivals and events across the country to a window between 8 pm and 10 pm. And while ruling out a complete ban, the Court also imposed stringent conditions on the manufacture and sale of firecrackers.
Applying the “precautionary principle” of environmental law, a bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan ordered that only crackers with reduced emission and “green crackers” can be manufactured and sold. They will also have to stick to permissible noise emission standards.
Explained: What are green crackers?
The Court also ordered a complete ban on all other crackers including joined firecrackers (series crackers or laris), which will apply not to just festivals, but also marriage ceremonies etc where crackers are used. Crackers already produced, which do not fall in the improved or green category cannot be sold in Delhi or NCR, the Court said, and restricted their sale to only licensed traders, and restrained e-commerce websites like Flipkart and Amazon from selling them online.
Imposing a stringent window to use firecrackers across the country, the court said: “On Diwali days or on any other festivals like Gurpurab etc., when such fireworks generally take place, it would strictly be from 8:00 p.m. till 10:00 p.m. only. On Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, when such fireworks start around midnight, i.e. 12:00 a.m., it would be from 11:55 p.m. till 12:30 a.m only.
The court also banned the use of barium salts in fireworks and asked the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) to review the clinical composition of fireworks, particularly reducing the aluminium content, and to submit a report in two weeks.
PESO has also been directed to ensure that only fireworks with permitted chemicals can be purchased, possessed or sold during Diwali and all other religious festivals, of any religion and marriages. Asking the police to ensure compliance of its directions, the Court said the concerned Station House Officer (SHO) of the area where violations are reported will be hauled up for contempt.
The SC order came of a batch of petitions seeking a total ban on firecrackers during Diwali. The main petition was filed by three children — Arjun Gopal, Aarav Bhandari and Zoya Rao Bhasin — through their parents highlighting the associated health risks.
Hearing the plea, the Court had in November 2018 banned the sale and stocking of all kinds of crackers.
Subsequently, applications were filed by firecracker sellers and manufacturers who said it violated their right to carry out business and would affect thousands of families engaged in the trade. Indic Collective, a Chennai-based Trust, also opposed a total ban of fireworks during Diwali saying it was a religious practice scrupulously followed by Hindus from time immemorial and had become a core and essential religious practice which was protected under Article 25 of the Constitution.
They also pointed out that there was no substantive study to establish that firecrackers were the only reason for the spiralling pollution levels in Delhi.
On the argument that it was fundamental to the practice of the faith and hence protected by Article 25, the court said, “We feel that Article 25 is subject to Article 21 and if a particular religious practice is threatening the health and lives of people, such practice is not to entitled to protection under Article 25. In any case, balancing can be done here as well by allowing the practice subject to those conditions which ensure nil or negligible effect on health”.
The Court also said that while firecrackers were “not the only reason for worsening air quality, at the same time, it definitely contributes to air pollution in a significant way”.
It referred to a short study by the Maulana Azad Medical College and said this had “returned a definite finding about deterioration in air quality during Diwali because of burning of crackers. It has also shown that post-Diwali air pollution in 2017 was less compared to the 2016 Diwali which was the result of lesser fireworks in 2017. This again indicates a direct causal connection between burning crackers during Diwali and air pollution”.
The Court said that “another immediate effect of burning of crackers is that it results in substantial increase in PM2.5 level which is a very serious health hazard. In fact, this results in severe noise pollution as well which has acute psychological, mental and even physical effect on animals”.
The Court, however, agreed that bursting firecrackers during Diwali was not the only reason for the deterioration of air quality in Delhi and that “unregulated construction activity which generates lot of dust and crop burning in the neighbouring states are the two other major reasons, apart from certain other reasons, including vehicular pollution etc”.