Health of the people must take precedence over any commercial or other interest of the applicant or any of the permanent licensees,
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, said the Bench.
A two judge Bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday issued modified directions on a plea seeking directions to ban the use of fireworks, sparklers and minor explosives in any form, during festivals or otherwise in Delhi and NCR.
Justices Madan B Lokur and Dipak Gupta observed that the right to health coupled with the right to breathe clean air leaves no manner of doubt that it is important that air pollution deserves to be eliminated and one of the possible methods of reducing it during Diwali is by continuing the suspension of licences for the sale of fireworks and therefore implicitly, prohibiting the bursting of fireworks. But the Court held 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 in the 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 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.
According to the Court, a complete ban on the sale of fireworks would be an extreme step that might not be fully warranted by the facts available to the Court.
There is, therefore, some justification for modifying the interim order passed on 11th November, 2016 and lifting the suspension of the permanent licences. At the same time, it cannot be forgotten that admittedly there is a huge quantity of fireworks in Delhi and in the NCR and the figure has been provided to us by the applicant. Similarly, there can be no doubt that the Delhi Police had issued a large number of temporary licences in 2016 and it would not be unreasonable to assume that around and during Diwali, there would have been some illegal temporary shops set up, whether known or not known to the police. We do not have the figures with regard to the NCR, but we assume that like in Delhi, a large number of temporary licences have been issued for the possession and sale of fireworks. Therefore, there is a need to regulate the availability and sale of fireworks in Delhi and the NCR.
The Bench observed that the health of the people in Delhi and in the NCR must take precedence over any commercial or other interest of the applicant or any of the permanent licensees and, therefore, a graded regulation is necessary which would eventually result in a prohibition.
(1) The directions issued by this Court in Sadar Bazar Fire Works (Pucca Shop) Association shall stand partially modified to the extent that they are not in conformity with the Explosives Rules which shall be implemented in full by the concerned authorities. Safety from fire hazards is one of our concerns in this regard.
(2) Specifically, Rule 15 relating to marking on explosives and packages and Rule 84 relating to temporary shops for possession and sale of fireworks during festivals of the Explosives Rules shall be strictly enforced. This should not be construed to mean that the other Rules need not be enforced – all Rules should be enforced. But if the fireworks do not conform to the requirements of Rules 15 and 84, they cannot be sold in the NCR, including Delhi and this prohibition is absolute.
(3) The directions issued and restrictions imposed in the order passed by this Court on 18th July, 2005 in Noise Pollution (V) shall continue to be in force.
(4) The concerned police authorities and the District Magistrates will ensure that fireworks are not burst in silence zones that is, an area at least 100 meters away from hospitals, nursing homes, primary and district health-care centres, educational institutions, courts, religious places or any other area that may be declared as a silence zone by the concerned authorities.
(5) 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.
(6) The Union of India will ensure strict compliance with the Notification GSR No. 64(E) dated 27th January, 1992 regarding the ban on import of fireworks. The Union of India is at liberty to update and revise this notification in view of the passage of time and further knowledge gained over the last 25 years and issue a fresh notification, if necessary.
(7) The Department of Education of the Government of NCT of Delhi and the corresponding Department in other States in the NCR shall immediately formulate a plan of action, in not more than 15 days, to reach out to children in all the schools through the school staff, volunteers and NGOs to sensitize and educate school children on the health hazards and ill-effects of breathing polluted air, including air that is polluted due to fireworks. School children should be encouraged to reduce, if not eliminate, the bursting of fireworks as a part of any festivities.
(8) The Government of NCT of Delhi and other States in the NCR may consider interacting with established medical institutions for issuing advisories cautioning people about the health hazards of bursting fireworks.
(9) The interim direction issued by this Court on 31st July, 2017 prohibiting the use of compounds of antimony, lithium, mercury, arsenic and lead in the manufacture of fireworks is made absolute. In addition, the use of strontium chromate in the manufacture of fireworks is prohibited.
(10) Fireworks containing aluminium, sulphur, potassium and barium may be sold in Delhi and in the NCR, provided the composition already approved by PESO is maintained. It is the responsibility of PESO to ensure compliance of the standards it has formulated.
(11) Since there are enough fireworks available for sale in Delhi and the NCR, the transport of fireworks into Delhi and the NCR from outside the region is prohibited and the concerned law enforcement authorities will ensure that there is no further entry of fireworks into Delhi and the NCR till further orders. In our opinion, even 50,00,000 kg of fireworks is far more than enough for Dussehra and Diwali in 2017. The permanent licensees are at liberty to exhaust their existing stock of fireworks in Delhi and the NCR and, if that is not possible, take measures to transport the stocks outside Delhi and the NCR.
(12) The suspension of permanent licences as directed by the order dated 11th November, 2016 is lifted for the time being. This might require a review after Diwali depending on the ambient air quality post Diwali. However, it is made explicit that the sale of fireworks by the permanent licensees must conform to the directions given above and must be fully in compliance with the Explosives Rules. We were informed that the permanent licences were issued by PESO and therefore the responsibility is on PESO to ensure compliance.
(13) While lifting the suspension on the permanent licences already granted, we put these licensees on notice for Dussehra and Diwali in 2018 that they will be permitted to possess and sell only 50% of the quantity permitted in 2017 and that this will substantially reduce over the next couple of years. The permanent licensees are at liberty to file objections to this proposed direction within 30 days from today and thereafter the objections if any will be heard and decided. If no objections are filed, this direction will become absolute without any further reference to any licensee.
(14) Since there is a lack of clarity on the safety limits of various metals and constituents used in fireworks, a research study must be jointly carried out by the CPCB and the FDRC laying down appropriate standards for ambient air quality in relation to the bursting of fireworks and the release of their constituents in the air. While Schedule VII of the Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986 does deal with several metals, but as we have seen there are several other metals or constituents of fireworks that have not been studied by the CPCB and no standards have been laid down with regard to the concentration of these metals or constituents in the ambient air. The CPCB has assured us that it will complete the exercise by 15th September, 2017 but keeping in mind its track record subsequent to the order dated 11th November, 2016 this does not seem possible. Therefore, we grant time to the CPCB to come out with definite standards on or before 30th September, 2017.
(15) In any event, a research study also needs to be conducted on the impact of bursting fireworks during Dussehra and Diwali on the health of the people. We, therefore, appoint a Committee to be chaired by the Chairperson of the CPCB and consisting of officers at the appropriate level from the National Physical Laboratory, Delhi, the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, Timarpur, Delhi, the Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur, scientists from the State Pollution Control Boards, the Fire Development and Research Centre, Sivakasi and Nagpur and the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) nominated by the Chairperson of the CPCB to submit a report in this regard preferably on or before 31st December, 2017.
(16) Keeping in mind the adverse effects of air pollution, the human right to breathe clean air and the human right to health, the Central Government and other authorities should consider encouraging display fireworks through community participation rather than individual bursting of fireworks.