What is it?
The Supreme Court on Monday reimposed the ban on the sale of fireworks in the Delhi-National Capital Region (NCR) till November 1. The direction, according to the court, is an outcome of “direct evidence of deterioration of air quality” every year during Deepavali on account of bursting of fire crackers. Deepavali falls on October 18 and 19 this year. A Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri, A.M. Sapre and Ashok Bhushan reverted to its November 2016 decision to suspend the sale of firecrackers “to test itself to find out whether there would be a positive effect of this suspension, particularly during Deepavali period.”
How did it come about?
This isn’t a new case and the Supreme Court’s November 11, 2016 order came on a petition by three children, Arjun Gopal, Aarav Bhandari and Zoya Rao Bhasin. On September 12, 2017, a Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and Deepak Gupta modified the 2016 order and allowed temporary licences for sale of crackers in Delhi-NCR. This was on a plea by firecracker manufacturers.
Why does it matter?
Burning of firecrackers during Deepavali in 2016 pushed up the particulate matter in the air by three times. Each year, the seasonal festivities make the air in and around Delhi and surrounding areas thick with smog and suspended particulate matter, leading to residents and children feeling breathless and vulnerable to asthmatic attacks.
The Supreme Court itself observed that “the air quality deteriorates abysmally and alarmingly and the city chokes thereby, leading to closure of schools in view of the health emergency situation.”
Crackers are made of highly toxic heavy metals such as copper, cadmium, lead, manganese, zinc, sodium and potassium.
These metals, if present in the air, can trigger an asthma attack, causing severe headache and respiratory problems, apart from chronic cough.
Even now the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which monitors pollution daily, found the Air Quality Index at 190 (moderate level) till October 3; it rose to 219 (poor) on October 4. The Air Quality Index grades air on the basis of pollutants such as PM2.5 and PM10, categorising it as Good (0-50), Satisfactory (51-100), Moderate (101-200), Poor (201-300), Very Poor (301-400) and Severe (>401).
Last year, according to realtime ambient air quality data of the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), PM10 readings went up by over 42 times after Deepavali at R.K. Puram (a densely populated area), touching the alarming high level.
The permissible level of PM2.5 is 60 g/m³ while PM10 is 100 g/m³. Levels beyond that can cause harm to the respiratory system as the ultra fine particulates can embed themselves deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream.
In its observation, the Supreme Court noted that the direct and immediate cause of the spike in air pollution during this time is because of burning of crackers for Deepavali.
On Wednesday, a group of traders moved the Supreme Court, seeking a modification of the October 9 order that banned the sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR.
The traders told the court that their licences were revived in pursuance of the court’s September 12 order and they procured firecrackers for sale during Deepavali.
A Bench, comprising Justices Ranjan Gogoi, A.M. Sapre and Navin Sinha, assured counsel for the traders that it would consult the judge concerned, who passed the order, for placing their interim application.
Lawyer Deepak Chauhan, representing trader Rajesh Kalia and several others, said they had invested a huge amount of money after their licences were revived, and the recent order of the court would cause them huge losses.
Hearing the petition by firecracker manufacturers, the Supreme Court on Friday refused to lift the suspension. It said the situation would be monitored for further course of action after Deepavali.