Fireworks, celebrations can’t be at the cost of life, says Supreme Court
No celebration can be allowed at the cost of life of others, said the Supreme Court on Wednesday as it justified the ban on the manufacturing and sale of traditional firecrackers, and implored people to shift to noiseless festivities ahead of Diwali.
“We are not averse to celebrations, but we cannot celebrate at the cost of life of others. Where do we get that a celebration must happen by bursting crackers, making noise and pollution? We can have celebrations without noise too,” said a bench of justices MR Shah and AS Bopanna.
The bench added that there are now green crackers that do not make noise. “Celebrations can also be from fuljhadi (sparkler), etc. It does not need to be noisy crackers only,” it remarked, when senior lawyers appearing for the firecracker manufacturers talked about striking a balance between celebrations and the right to life of people.
The court was considering a clutch of applications for the implementation of its October 23, 2018, judgment that took note of the deteriorating air pollution in major cities and prohibited the production of all traditional firecrackers, including the joined crackers, also known as series crackers or laaris, using barium or its salts. Instead, only green crackers and improved crackers with reduced emissions were allowed to be manufactured and sold.
Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for his minor son Arjun Gopal, who is one of the petitioners in the case, also pressed for contempt action against some manufacturers, citing alleged violations of the 2018 order by them.
On the other hand, certain firecracker manufacturers came before the bench seeking approval from the central government authorities on their improved crackers ahead of Diwali in November.
Typically, levels of air pollutants shoot up on the evening of Diwali as people set off firecrackers that often have compounds such barium that create a toxic smoke when ignited. This lingers due to meteorological conditions typical for this time of the year: low winds. To add to it, for close to a decade now, the air in the National Capital Region is usually laden with PM2.5 pollutants from fire fires, resulting in conditions that expert say is hazardous to breathe in.
A report submitted recently by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the use of toxic chemicals in producing firecrackers informed the court that six manufactures had used banned chemical barium or its salt, following which the bench on September 28 issued show-cause notices to the manufacturers.
Responding, most of these six manufacturers, including Hindustan Fireworks and Standard Fireworks, claimed that they had purchased barium and its salts but did not use it in manufacturing firecrackers.
“What they say is very surprising. They say that they purchased such a huge quantity of barium only to keep it their godowns but not to manufacture. They would not purchase it only for a show...they cannot even keep it in godowns,” observed the bench.
It reiterated that the court’s earlier orders on a crackdown on the use of barium and its salt in firecrackers must be complied with by every state, as it wondered how the authorities have not been able to stop the laaris that are still burst in almost all celebrations.
Sankaranarayan submitted that the CBI report has put forth a very disturbing picture where manufacturers can be witnessed breaching the law with impunity.
At this, the court said that it will hear the issue in detail on October 26 after all the parties go through what the manufacturers have said in their replies to the show-cause notices.
States such as Delhi and Odisha have already announced a complete ban on the sale and use of firecrackers during the upcoming festive season. The Delhi government has also prohibited the storage of firecrackers. This pre-emptive ban was imposed given the city’s deteriorating air quality over the past three years, said chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in a series of tweets on September 15.
While banning the use of firecrackers through its judgment in 2018, the top court had encouraged the community bursting of crackers within fixed timings: from 8pm to 10pm on Diwali and festival days, and for half-an-hour after midnight on Christmas and New Year’s Day. It had held that only green crackers and improved crackers with reduced emissions will be allowed to be manufactured and sold.
Barium and its salts in the making of firecrackers were banned owing to poisonous gases causing respiratory problems. The Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization was further directed to review the chemical composition of the firecrackers and submit its report to the court to guide on the chemicals that could be used to produce green crackers.
During the last hearing on September 28, the court had observed that it cannot let people suffer because of air and sound pollution caused by firecrackers and that its ban must be implemented by all the authorities in letter and spirit.