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'Preservation Of Life Important Than Festivals': Supreme Court Affirms Calcutta High Court's Ban On Sale & Bursting Of Firecrackers In West Bengal

11 Nov 2020 5:34 AM GMT
Preservation Of Life Important Than Festivals: Supreme Court Affirms Calcutta High Courts Ban On Sale & Bursting Of Firecrackers In West Bengal

The Supreme Court on Wednesday affirmed the Calcutta High Court order banning the sale and bursting of firecrackers during Diwali, Chatt Puja, Kali Puja, etc in the entire state of West Bengal.A vacation bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee dismissed the special leave petition filed against the November 5 order passed by a division bench of the High Court.In the brief...

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday affirmed the Calcutta High Court order banning the sale and bursting of firecrackers during Diwali, Chatt Puja, Kali Puja, etc in the entire state of West Bengal.

A vacation bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee dismissed the special leave petition filed against the November 5 order passed by a division bench of the High Court.

In the brief hearing held on Monday, Justice Chandrachud observed that preservation of life was more important during the COVID-19 pandemic than the celebration of festivals.

The judge told Senior Advocate Siddharth Bhatnagar, the counsel of the petitioner Guatam Roy :

"High Courts know the local situation better. Of course, festivals are an important part of our culture. But we are in the middle of a pandemic. There can be no greater value than the preservation of life. We understand this may involve hardship. But, look at COVID-19 affected people in hospitals, elderly people etc. Can anyone step out of the house in Calcutta, Delhi or any other part of the city today?".

Bhatnagar submitted that the High Court had no empirical data to arrive at the conclusion regarding the necessity of cracker ban.

Justice Chandrachud disagreed with this view.

"There are judges living through the pandemic. Advocates living through the pandemic. Trust us, judges are conscious that these festivals mean a lot. But there are some values above festivals. Life itself has been imperiled at this time. Anything that contributes to improving life for senior citizens, people with comorbidities etc should be encouraged".

Faced with the disinclination of the bench, Bhatnagar made an alternate submission. Conceding to sustain the firecracker ban for Diwali, Bhatnagar urged the bench to reconsider the ban during the other upcoming festivals like Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Chatt Puja etc.

But the bench was not persuaded. Justice Banerjee observed that these festivals are also celebrated on a wide scale in parts of Bengal.

Following this brief exchange, the bench said that it was dismissing the petition.

High Court's order

The Calcutta High Court on Thursday (05th October) banned the use and sale of firecrackers on Kali Puja in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Bench of Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Arijit Banerjee ordered,

"The State should ensure that there is no use or display or bursting of firecrackers at all during the Kali Puja and Diwali celebrations."

Further, the Court ordered,

"For this purpose, only wax or oil-based diyas would have to suffice, for the greater good of the citizens and in the larger public interest. This direction as to firecrackers will be effective all over the State and will cover not only the Kali Puja and Diwali celebrations, but also the Chhat Puja, Jagadhatri Puja and Guru Nanak's birthday celebrations thereafter."

Court's directions related to Kali Puja, Jagadhatri Puja and Kartick Puja

The Court was of the opinion that since public Kali pujas are many more than Durga pujas, and some of the pandals are much smaller, the guidelines issued for Durga Puja pandals need to be somewhat modified.

In this context, the Court issued the following guidelines

· All pandals will continue to be No-Entry Zones, including an area of five-metre beyond the pandals on all the open sides. Only dhakis will be 5 permitted to occupy the space beyond the pandals and within the five-metre zone thereafter. Except for dhakis, the five-metre zone has to be kept completely free at all times.

· For the smaller pandals, where the covered area excluding the dais is up to 150 square metres, only 10 persons may be in such covered area at any given point of time. For pandals with a covered area between 150 square metres and 300 square metres excluding the dais, the number of persons at any point of time maybe 15. For bigger pandals, in excess of 300 square metres in an area excluding the dais, a maximum of 45 persons can be within the pandals at any given point of time.

· Sanitisers must be available at the puja pandals and wearing of masks will be mandatory within and around the pandal area. The distancing norm has to be maintained at all times both within the pandals and in an around the pandals.

· Immersions should be low-key affairs and processions for such purpose will not be permitted. The use of bands and lights at the time of immersion will also remain prohibited. It will be open to the local police to provide for staggered timings so that the immersion ghats are not overcrowded.

Court's directions related to Ban on Firecrackers

The Court directed that the police should maintain a strict vigil to ensure that there is no sale or purchase of firecrackers of any form in the State between now and the end of the month.

Also, the police has been asked to make every effort to confiscate firecrackers and any kind of like material which have the potential to pollute the air. Immediate appropriate measures must be taken by the police against those seeking to act in contravention of these directions.

The State has been asked to ensure that no firecrackers of any kind are brought into the State, except for immediate transit to another State. The compendious word "firecrackers" is used in this order to include all types of sparklers and the like, whether or not the use or burning thereof involves any sound or light being generated.

As far as the application by the firecrackers' association was concerned, the Court said,

"It will be for the State to consider whether appropriate compensation or other measures can be taken".

The Court further said,

"For the greater good, a small number of persons involved in the firecracker business may have to suffer losses. The overwhelming public interest cannot be compromised."

As far as the temples in the State are concerned, the Court ordered,

"The local police should ensure that Covid protocol is maintained, including the distancing norms. The local administration and police will ensure that there is no overcrowding within the temple precincts or outside. This will apply particularly to the Dakshineshwar Kali temple, the Kalighat temple, the Tarapith temple, the Kalyaneswari temple in Rupnarayanpur and other Kali and Shakti and other temples all over the State, till the lockdown is completely lifted."

For the other aspects, particularly, the Chhat Puja and the kind of processions that may be allowed for Chhat Puja celebrations, the matter will appear on November 10, 2020.

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