The Supreme Court modified its November 2016 ban on sale of firecrackers in the National Capital Region , noting that a complete ban is “too radical a step”.
The apex court lifted its suspension of valid permanent licences in the National Capital Region (NCR), which encompasses the entire National Capital Territory of Delhi, including New Delhi as well as urban areas surrounding it in neighboring states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
On November 11, 2016, the Supreme Court had ordered the suspension of all licences permitting the sale of fireworks, wholesale and retail within NCR till further orders. It had banned the grant or renewal of firecracker licences. The order was based on a slew of petitions to ban the use of fireworks. Further, the poorness of the air quality had become manifold severe after Diwali in 2016.
In a paradigm shift from its stand last year, the court struck a balance between its primary concern to protect the “human right to breathe good quality air” and the commercial interests of the fireworks industry. It has now opted for a “graded approach” to prohibition of fireworks.
Relief to Sivakasi manufacturers
The modification is a big relief to Sivakasi fireworks manufacturers, who had challenged the 2016 ban. They contended the ban had left 821 fireworks industries and five lakh employees in dire straits.
“Consequently, a complete ban on the sale of fireworks would be an extreme step that might not be fully warranted by the facts available to us. There is, therefore, some justification for modifying the interim order passed on November 11, 2016 and lifting the suspension of the permanent licences... it is necessary to ensure that injustice is not caused to those who have already been granted a valid permanent licence to possess and sell fireworks in Delhi and the NCR,” a Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta observed in a 44-page judgment.
While lifting the ban on permanent licences, it passed directions for regulating temporary licences. The court said it has come to terms with the ground reality that “illegal temporary shops” are bound to crop up with or without the blessing of the authorities in the NCR during the time of Diwali.
“The Delhi Police is directed to reduce the grant of temporary licences by about 50% of the number of licences granted in 2016. The number of temporary licences should be capped at 500. Similarly, the States in the NCR are restrained from granting more than 50% of the number of temporary licences granted in 2016. The area of distribution of the temporary licences is entirely for the authorities to decide,” the court directed.
The court reminded that the lifting of suspension of permanent licences would be reviewed post Diwali. These licence-holders must fully comply with the Explosive Rules. The Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), which issues the permanent licences, would have to ensure compliance.
As a part of its graded approach towards total prohibition of fireworks, the court put the permanent licensees on notice for Dussehra and Diwali in 2018. It held that “they (permanent licensees) will be permitted to possess and sell only 50% of the quantity permitted in 2017 and that this will substantially reduce over the next couple of years”. Any objections to this direction can be filed in the next 30 days with the Supreme Court.
The court imposed a total ban on transport of firecrackers into Delhi and NCR from outside till further orders. “In our opinion, even 50,00,000 kg of fireworks is far more than enough for Dussehra and Diwali in 2017. The permanent licensees are at liberty to exhaust their existing stock of fireworks in Delhi and the NCR and, if that is not possible, take measures to transport the stocks outside Delhi and the NCR,” the court directed.