It is extremely distressing to note that ban on sale of firecrackers in the National Capital Region (NCR) which has been imposed by the Supreme Court and which will continue till November 1 has come under sharp criticism from various quarters and adding fuel to the fire is that communal colour is being sought to be given to cracker ban in NCR. We all know fully well how crackers are injurious to health and if we desist from indulging in firing crackers we are doing a great service not only to others health but also to our ownself. Why then is a communal colour being sought to be given to its order of imposing cracker ban in NCR ?
Bluntly put, how can we be oblivious to the alarming rise in the level of pollution in Delhi around Diwali? Should serious efforts not be made to check it? Don’t we know how animals especially dogs and cats become so frightened when repeatedly crackers burst? Don’t we see how dirt spreads all around after firecrackers are burst? Don’t we know that as per World Health Organization (WHO) standards, Delhi is the most polluted cities in the world with air pollution 29 times above the standard level?
Be it noted, the Supreme Court on October 13 refused to modify its order to allow traders to sell firecrackers during the Diwali festival. The Bench also expressed its utmost anguish over attempts by some people to give a communal colour to its orders. The Bench of Supreme Court comprising of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan while expressing anguish lamented that, “We are pained to hear such statements”.
Truly speaking, while refusing to vacate the ban, the two Judge Bench took pains to point out that it had weighed all aspects of the problem, including the religious one. The Bench said that, “We are not going to modify (the order) as that will go against the spirit of our order. We are pained that some people are giving it a communal colour. Our concern primarily was the health of the masses.” Justice Sikri said he was spiritual and religious, too, but this was a legal issue. He also clarified that, “We have clearly said that this is an experiment for this year.”
Not stopping here, he further clarified that, “Who said we have banned the bursting of crackers? The existing stockpile of crackers is enough.” He also added that, “Very frankly, suspension of sales has not dampened Diwali celebrations. Sales are already taking place. Crackers are already being burst. It is not anyway going to be a cracker free Diwali.”
While craving for the exclusive indulgence of my esteemed readers, let me inform them that the Apex Court asked all the parties not to politicize the issue and very rightly so. The rulings of not just the top court and high courts but also of all courts in India must be accorded the highest esteem and motives should not be ascribed to the Judges pronouncing the order as it directly damages the credibility of the people in our judicial system and this can never be good for the smooth functioning of our democracy! We all have every right to express our opinions but we must all always be careful never to giver communal colour to court orders in any particular case!
For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let me also reveal here that making a last ditch attempt to impress upon the Supreme Court to lift the ban on crackers, the sellers had urged a Bench of Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan that they should at least be allowed to sell firecrackers during Diwali, saying it is integral to the festival. Senior Supreme Court advocate and former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi contended that, “Diwali is being celebrated for years and Delhi is not the only place where the festival is celebrated. People across the country celebrate it and burst firecrackers. Residents of NCR should not be deprived of firecrackers. The court should restrict the time for sale and fix timing for bursting firecrackers.” There is merit in what Rohatgi has contended.
But let it be said in the same vein that the Bench, however, refused to relax its ban order and said people who had purchased firecrackers before the ban order was passed could use it on Diwali. It said people should accept the order as it was meant to check pollution and would be beneficial for the health of people in NCR. It must be appreciated that the pollution level in Delhi is very high as compared to other cities. To control it, some hard measures had to be taken and this is why Supreme Court sought to ban cracker in NCR.
Be it noted, the direction given by the Supreme Court reimposing the ban on the sale of fire crackers in the Delhi-NCR region till November 1 according to the Apex Court, is an outcome of “direct evidence of deterioration of air quality” every year during Deepavali on account of bursting of fire crackers. It is also noteworthy that a Bench of Justices AK Sikri, AM 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 the Deepavali period.”
It must be brought out here that this is not a new case that has cropped up recently. The earlier Supreme Court’s November 11, 2016 order banning the sale of fireworks in the NCR due to rising level of pollution purportedly due to excessive use of fireworks during the festivals of Dussehra and Diwali came as an interim relief in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 728 of 2015 titled Arjun Gopal and Others v Union of India and others that came when a petition was filed in this behalf by three children – Arjun Gopal, Aarav Bhandari and Zoya Rao Bhasin. It also cannot be dismissed lightly that on September 12, 2017, a Bench of Apex Court comprising of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta had modified the said order and allowed the sale of firecrackers, but simultaneously also directed the Government 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. Firecracker manufacturers had made a plea in this behalf.
To say the least, 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. The Bench was magnanimous enough to conclude that 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 can be no denying this!
Going forward, the Bench further observed that, “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.”
To put things in perspective, the Bench further clarified that the graded and balanced approach is not intended to dilute its 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 or at least not be compelled to breathe poor quality air. 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 Government agencies to ensure that there is no further entry of fireworks into NCR till further orders.
Not stopping here, it also banned use of compounds of antimony, lithium, mercury, arsenic, lead and strontium chromate in fireworks. The Supreme Court minced no words in observing 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.” It is well known that crackers are made of highly toxic heavy metals like cadmium, copper, zinc, manganese, potassium and sodium. These metals whenever they are present in the atmosphere and air which we breathe can certainly cause an asthma attack which results in severe headache and respiratory problems, apart from chronic cough.
It also cannot be denied that the Supreme Court’s ban on the sale of firecrackers helped Delhi and the NCR breathe better after Diwali this year. The Court’s decision to ban liquor vends within 500 metres of National and State Highways strengthened the government’s decades-long efforts to prevent roads from becoming accident zones. Justice DY Chandrachud cited these instances in open court on October 26 to counter criticism that the court might have gone over board by reading too much into Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution and passing orders that were practically unenforceable.
It cannot be lost on us that Justice Chandrachud praised the October 9, 2017 judgment of a Bench led by Justice AK Sikri to suspend the sale of firecrackers till November 1 as an example of the court’s positive intervention to ensure a green environment. Justice Sikri had reasoned in the judgment that the ban was a means to “find out whether there would be a positive effect of this suspension, particularly during the Diwali period.” Banning fireworks and crackers certainly makes a difference which one has to concede.
Let me add here in the same vein that just banning firecrackers is not enough to curb pollution. Many other steps have to be taken in tandem like making sure that old vehicles are off the road, polluting industries are made to comply with ensuring minimum emitting of pollutants and ensuring the shutdown of such polluting industries who don’t comply etc. This is what the government must make sure if it is really serious in making a serious and concerted bid to check corruption!
All said and done, we all must respect the order of the top court in this case. Diwali should be celebrated with lights and not with crackers. Many people including me have voluntarily forsaken crackers to honour what Supreme Court has said and still celebrated Diwali by lighting candles, lamps and by not doing anything that further contributes to noise pollution. This is exactly what is the real intent of Supreme Court and it has been wrongly misinterpreted by some and given a communal colour wrongly which has pained Supreme Court to the hilt. We all know how polluted Delhi is. So what wrong has Supreme Court said? Can anyone tell me? We all must abide by what the Supreme Court has said because whatever it has said will benefit us all and not just one ore few individuals alone! We all must understand this and there can be no better tribute that we can pay to this landmark judgment of the Supreme Court by which firecrackers are banned in the NCR region. It has been noticed that many people all over the country have admired this landmark ruling and have not bursted any crackers and fireworks even though they could do so as they reside in other states and places away from NCR and this is what Supreme Court must feel most happy about and also proud of!