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Synopsis

This paper will be discussing the total ban imposed by The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on sale and use of all firecrackers in the National Capital Region- NCR and its impact on how people celebrate the much awaited festival. It will analyze the different states that have enacted some sort of prohibition over firecrackers and delve deeper into "why". The paper aims to take a comprehensive and a collective look at the top court’s remark, what the high courts have to say about it while some about some pre-existing laws in regard to the prohibition.

After Diwali celebrations last year, a rather gloomy picture took the internet by storm. What looked like a dense cloud of smoke, was actually a haze of smog insidiously enveloping the skyline on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. As officials and citizens together feared the worse, a strict ban on firecrackers was seriously considered. As the raging pandemic overshadows the festivities, research shows that poor air quality can further create problems for the Covid-19 patients. A study indicates that people in areas with high air pollution are 11 percent more likely to die if they are infected by Covid-19.

In order to avoid deterioration of the air quality in many cities due to the pollution caused by firecrackers, several states have banned their use during the diya-lit festival of Diwali. While the onus to stay safe was usually on the citizenry, this year the government machinery is in full support of a green, clean and a safe Diwali that does not endanger the vulnerable. As some states have levied a complete ban, there are places like Karnataka and Maharashtra that have issued the guidelines for fair but safe sale of firecrackers.

The Hindu festival of Diwali is celebrated with great pomp all over the country by people of different faiths and sects. Mythology-wise different parts of India subscribe to a different tale, beautifully converging in one, diverse vessel of triumph of good over evil. Earthen oil lamps, delicious sweets and colorful rangolis - is how most people prefer this five day long festival. Firecrackers however, are quite popular, with children and elders alike. The winter night used to be different shades as people burst crackers after the evening pooja. The next day, one could see the dramatic rise in the complaints of cough, burns, difficulty in breathing and other air-pollution related ailments. Heartbreaking cases of animal cruelty would come to light. The 2005 Supreme Court judgement that banned bursting loud fire crackers between 10:00pm at night and 06:00am in the morning, was some relief from the increasing number of people wanting to celebrate their Diwali by ensuring they heartily contribute to the rising noise and air pollution of India. Fifteen years later, in 2020, that states have taken a rather proactive stance in dealing with the menace of firecrackers. While some have outright banned, the others have issued a set of rules to ensure that any unnecessary harm is avoided.

The Supreme Court has modified the Telangana High Court’s order to allow a short window of a couple hours for those that wish to burst the crackers in Telangana and in other states that recorded the air quality as ‘moderate’ or below; however substituting the regular sutli bombs the court has asked for the crackers to be environment friendly. Let’s take a look at what the top court said, regulations in different states of India and some existing laws regarding the prohibition.

The Supreme Court

A vacation bench of the Supreme Court did not agree with the Telangana High Court’s view to completely ban the use, manufacture and sale of firecrackers in Telangana for Deepawali and other festivals.

Instead, a bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Sanjeev Khanna modified the High Court order in line with the more "comprehensive"directions issued by National Green Tribunal (NGT), on November 9, about the use and sale of firecrackers across the country, especially the Delhi - NCR region.

In its order passed only a few days before the Telangana HC order of November 12, the tribunal had given several alternatives on firecrackers, other than a blanket ban, based on the ground situation in individual cities and towns.

While NGT ordered a categorical ban on firecrackers of any sort for Delhi-NCR region, it had allowed green crackers in cities and towns where the average of ambient air quality was ‘moderate or above’.

"The cities/towns where air quality is ‘moderate’ or below, only green crackers be sold and the timings for use and bursting of crackers be restricted to two hours during festivals, like Diwali, Chatt, New Year/Christmas Eve, etc as may be specified by the State concerned,"the NGT had ordered.

The Telangana Fire Works Dealers Association moved the apex court urgently on Friday to stay the High Court order. They argued that the unexpected ban by the High Court has caused a serious dent in their business. The High Court order is a cause of grave prejudice to them. The losses and damage would be irreparable if the court order is not stayed.

Delhi to West Bengal - here’s where the states stand

Delhi - NCR

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday imposed a total ban on sale or use of all kinds of firecrackers in the National Capital Region (NCR) from the midnight of November 9 to the midnight of November 30. Delhi Environment Minister Gopal Rai said that if anyone violates the ban, then the violator shall be punished under the Air Act.

West Bengal

The West Bengal government has also issued a ban on bursting of firecrackers on Kali Puja and Diwali. "West Bengal government will not allow bursting of firecrackers during Kali Puja and Diwali festivals to check air pollution and also because they are hazardous for Covid-19 patients"the state chief secretary was quoted saying.

Rajasthan

The Rajasthan government also announced a ban on the sale and bursting of firecrackers. Ashok Gehlot-led state government banned the use of firecrackers "to protect the health of Covid-19 infected patients and public from poisonous smoke emanating due to fireworks."

Maharashtra

The Maharashtra government issued Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) on preventive measures to contain Covid-19 during Diwali. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on November 8 announced that his government would not impose any ban on firecrackers in the state in the view of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, he urged people to observe self-discipline and celebrate firecrackers-free Diwali.

Laws To Lookout For

  • Bursting fireworks that do not qualify the safety guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court can get you booked under Section 188 of IPC. Under the section, if a person violates an order promulgated by a public servant who has the authority to impose it, they can be punished with "simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month or a fine which may extend to two hundred rupees or both".
  • If you are a resident of Delhi-NCR, you might want to consider not violating an almost forgotten, forty year old act, under which almost zero cases have been registered till date. The Air Act of 1981, that aims to enable the "preservation of quality of air and control of air pollution"is going to be used to penalize those that flout the firecracker regulations.
  • The Explosives Act of 1884 covered all kinds of explosives and there was no separate Act to regulate the manufacture, possession, use, sale, transport, import and export of firecrackers - noted the apex court as it passed its famous 2005 judgement that prohibited bursting crackers after 10:00pm in the night.
  • The fireworks are regulated by the Environmental Protection Act,1986 (authorizes the central government to protect and improve environment quality, control and reduce pollution from all sources, and prohibit and restrict the setting and/or operation of any industrial facility on environmental grounds) and the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules, 2000 - which regulates the noise pollution and under which new fines have been proposed to deter the offenders.

Conclusion

Across India, different restrictions have been imposed on sale and use of firecrackers during the festive season in light of high levels of air pollution. The apex court has sided with the National Green Tribunal in avoiding a "blanket ban"and enabling reasonable alternatives. The states on which some ban has been imposed, will try offenders under their state laws. It would be interesting to watch what healthier alternatives do we come up with in lieu of regular firecrackers. In light of ever-increasing pollution levels, would the ban on firecrackers be levied on other occasions as well? Or Diwali of 2021 shall witness a return of these crackers? Are questions only time can answer. What we can observe however, is how much change on ground reality is a result of institutional measures like prohibitions and bans. It is important to note that those that derive their livelihood from manufacture and sale of fireworks, are going to surprisingly find themselves in the chains of financial constraint, that too, when most part of 2020 has already been economically underwhelming.

It is as important to look out for these under-privileged and disproportionately affected for larger public good, as it is to care for our deteriorating environment. Let us all look forward to an inclusive, safe and green Diwali that brings in not just prosperity but energy to heal from the many wounds a lot of us have been festered with this year.


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