The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck a balance between the interests of the firecracker industry and the right to public health, allowing the manufacture and sale of only “green” and reduced-emission or “improved” crackers, while banning those that are loud and toxic to man, animal and the environment.
A Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan held that only green or improved crackers would be used during religious festivals and other occasions, including weddings.
In nationwide curbs, the judgment reduced the time for bursting crackers during Deepavali and other festivals to two hours: between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
For Christmas and New Year, the time slot allowed is half-an-hour, between 11.55 p.m. and half-past midnight.
The ban came on the basis of a petition filed by two infants — a six-month-old and 14-month-old — through their fathers in 2015. They said the air pollution caused by various factors, especially firecrackers, made Delhi a gas chamber. They pleaded for their right to life.
The court banned the manufacture, sale and use of joined firecrackers (series crackers or ‘laris’), holding that they caused “huge air, noise and solid waste problems.”
The sale of green and improved crackers would be only through licensed traders.
Online sale banned
It banned online sale through e-commerce websites, including Flipkart and Amazon. “Any such e-commerce company found selling crackers online will be hauled up for contempt of court, and the court may also pass, in that eventuality, orders of monetary penalties,” it warned.
The court said the “balanced approach” taken now was only a preliminary step. It would not shy away from imposing more stringent measures against firecrackers in the future “if the situation so warrants.”
The court urged the Central and State governments to permit “community” bursting of crackers during festivities in pre-designated areas. In the case of Delhi and the National Capital Region, the court made it mandatory and gave the Centre, the Delhi government and the State governments, whose areas fall within the NCR, a week’s time to identify these pre-designated areas. It directed that the public should be informed about the designated places a week before Diwali.
Local Station House Officers would be held personally liable and hauled up for contempt by the court if there was any violation of the judgment, including the time slots for bursting crackers or sale of banned crackers.
The court rejected arguments that bursting crackers was a fundamental right and an essential practice during religious festivals like Diwali. “We feel that Article 25 (right to religion) is subject to Article 21 (right to life). If a particular religious practice is threatening the health and lives of people, such practice is not entitled to protection under Article 25… Our endeavour is to strive at balancing of two rights, namely, right of the petitioners under Article 21 and right of the manufacturers and traders under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution,” Justice Sikri observed in the 54-page judgment.
Banning the use of barium salts in fireworks, the court entrusted the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) with the job of ensuring that only fireworks with permitted chemicals were sold or purchased during festivities or celebrations; test and check for the presence of banned chemicals like lithium/arsenic/antimony/lead/mercury; and ensure that only those crackers whose decibel (sound) levels were within the limits were allowed in the market.
PESO has been empowered to suspend the licences and appropriately dispose of stocks of manufacturers who violated the court’s directions.