Firecrackers would be available in Delhi NCR and people could procure and use it to celebrate Dussehara and Diwali in coming festive seasons as the Supreme Court on Tuesday lifted ban on their sale, saying that a graded and balanced and not radical approach was required to deal with pollution menace in the city.
A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta modified an apex court order passed on November 11 last year and allowed sale of firecrackers but directed the governemnt authorities to ensure that fireworks are not burst in silence zones and also restricted the Delhi Police not to grant temporary licenses to more than 500 shopkeepers.
The bench held that the residents of the NCT and NCR are entitled to breathe unpolluted air but there was no conclusive proof that extremely poor quality of air in Delhi in last winter was the result only of bursting fireworks around Diwali to justify the ban. “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,” it said
“In our considered opinion, continuing the suspension of licences might be too radical a step to take for the present – a graded and balanced approach is necessary that will reduce and gradually eliminate air pollution in Delhi and NCR caused by the bursting of fireworks. At the same time 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,” the bench said.
“The graded and balanced approach is not intended to dilute our primary concern which is and remains the health of everybody and the human right to breathe good quality air or at least not be compelled to breathe poor quality air. Generally speaking, this must take precedence over the commercial or other interest of the applicant and those granted a permanent licence to possess and sell fireworks,” it said.
The bench also prohibited transport of fireworks from other states into Delhi and the NCR and asked the traders to exhaust their existing stocks of 50,00,000 kg. It directed the governemnt agencies to ensure that there is no further entry of fireworks into NCR till further orders. It also banned use of compounds of antimony, lithium, mercury, arsenic, lead and strontium chromate in fireworks.
“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,” it said.
The bench pulled up Delhi government and city police for not taking preventive steps to curb the pollution caused due to fire cracking and directed the Education department of NCT government to formulate a plan within 15 days to sensitised people particularly children about the health hazards of firecracking.
“The response of the Government of NCT of Delhi is lethargic with the absence of any keenness to take proactive steps. This is disconcerting. It is high time that governmental authorities realize that the cost of ill health (particularly among children) is far greater in psycho-social terms than in financial and economic terms. Similarly, the Delhi Police has issued directions that are difficult to enforce such as restricting the time during which fireworks can be burst. These are ad hoc measures,” the court said.
“What is also worrying, apart from the absence of standards or limits having been laid down by the CPCB, is that very little or no attention seems to have been paid by any of the governmental authorities to the possible health hazards faced by children due to exposure to chemicals in fireworks. The governmental authorities need to realize their responsibility regarding the care and protection of the health of the people and the importance of launching a sustained campaign to reduce air pollution to manageable limits during Diwali and the period immediately thereafter. The health of children should be of foremost concern in this regard,” it said.
It also appointed a high level committee consisting of representatives from CPCB, National Physical Laboratory, Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, IIT Kanpur, Fire Development and Research Centre,National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and scientists from the State Pollution Control Boards to conduct a study on adverse health impact on people due to bursting fireworks during Dussehra and Diwali. The committee headed by CPCB chairman has been asked to submit report by end of this year.
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 11th November, 2016 and lifting the suspension of the permanent licences.