New Delhi: The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday refused to impose a complete ban on sale of firecrackers ahead of Diwali and conditionally allowed sale of fireworks that meet the standards of low emission and decibel in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR).
The judgement is crucial as the residents of the NCR have for long been suffering from extremely high levels of air pollution, which peaks every year during Diwali. However, it also kept in mind the interest of those dependent on the manufacture and sale of firecrackers and struck a balance by not imposing a complete ban.
The apex court’s directive took note of the suggestions of the centre in this regard.
The top court allowed so-called environment friendly firecrackers to be sold and said that this should be done only through licensed traders. It banned the manufacture, sale and use of joined firecrackers, such as series crackers or laris.
A bench comprising justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan limited the bursting of firecrackers from 8pm to 10pm for Diwali and between 11:55pm and 12:30am on other occasions such as Christmas and New Year. These timings would be applicable all over India.
“We are of the opinion that the centre’s suggestions strive a nice balance between the two competing interests. We accept the aforesaid measures as suggested by the centre and direct it and other concerned authorities to implement the same with immediate effect," justice Sikri said.
The court has, through its order, sought to introduce the concept of bursting firecrackers as a community, wherever it can be done (during festivals and marriages) and asked the central and state governments to identify particular areas for this within one week so that the public at large is informed about the designated places before Diwali.
E-commerce platforms such as Flipkart and Amazon have also been directed to not sell fireworks online. If they are found to be doing so, they would be hauled up for contempt of court and may have to face monetary penalties.
The court also asked the Petroleum and Safety Explosives Organization (PESO) to review the clinical composition of fireworks, particularly with respect to reducing aluminium content, and submit a report on this within two weeks. “PESO will ensure fireworks with permitted chemicals are purchased/ possessed/ sold/ used during Diwali and all other religious festivals and other occasions like marriages. It shall test and check for the presence of banned chemicals like lithium/ arsenic/ antimony/ lead/ mercury," the court said.
The court put the onus on the centre, state governments, schools and colleges to take up public awareness campaigns informing the public about the harmful effects of firecrackers.
The court had earlier observed that there was a need to strike a balance between the right to health of citizens and the right to carry on trade by fireworks manufacturers.
A complete ban was opposed by the centre, which argued conditions could be imposed on the manufacture and sale of high-decibel firecrackers instead.
Manufacturers of fireworks had argued that firecrackers alone could not be held as the reason for pollution during Diwali and an entire industry should not be shut down as a consequence. They contended that other factors such as vehicular pollution, construction dust and crop stubble burning also contribute to a great measure to the pollution in Delhi.
Ahead of Diwali last year, the apex court had banned the sale of firecrackers in the NCR in response to a petition by three children. Any temporary licences issued by the police to firecracker manufacturers were also to remain suspended for that period. The court had passed this order reimposing its earlier order of 11 November 2016 suspending sale of firecrackers to test the suspension order and ascertain its positive effect on the air quality in the NCR during the Diwali period.
On 12 September 2017, a two-judge bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta partially lifted the ban and asked establishments with permanent licenses to utilize their existing stocks and not sell fresh stock. It had also reduced the number of temporary licences by the states of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh by 50%. Temporary licences in Delhi were capped at 500.
The court was on Tuesday hearing a plea by three children seeking restoration of last year’s order banning sale of firecrackers in view of the worsening air quality in the NCR.