India's top court refuses to ban firecrackers

Time limits placed on use of noisy fireworks during religious celebrations including Christmas and Diwali
India's top court refuses to ban firecrackers

Firecrackers are sold at makeshift stalls in Guwahati, eastern India, ahead of the Diwali festival of lights. The Supreme Court last year banned the sale of firecrackers in New Delhi and adjoining areas to check air pollution. (Photo by IANS)

India's Supreme Court has refused to impose a blanket ban on firecrackers but has restricted their use during festivities including Christmas and New Year.

The top court on Oct. 23 permitted the use of firecrackers with reduced emission and decibel levels during festivals when Indians usually burst them as an expression of joy.

However, the court also put time limits on their use while hearing a petition seeking a total ban on them across the country in view of dangerously increasing air pollution.

"It is a historic judgment and we welcome it because the court has not only kept the safety of our planet but also given space to practice the rituals of religious tradition," said environmentalist and Jesuit Father Robert Athickal.

The order prohibits setting off firecrackers throughout the night during India's most popular Diwali festival of lights. Diwali firecrackers should be used only from 8-10 p.m., it said.

Over Christmas and New Year firecrackers can be burst between 11.55 p.m. and 12.30 a.m., the court said.

The court allowed only the production of firecrackers with reduced emissions that are sold through licensed outlets.

Father Athickal said the court had imposed a total ban last October on firecrackers in national capital Delhi but "the biggest letdown was that in many places it was not followed."

The latest verdict comes after a petition filed in September 2015 by parents of three infants expressing concern over the health threat to their babies because of deteriorating air quality.

The petitioners contended firecrackers are the major cause of air pollution and sought a total ban on them, saying that while pollution adversely affects all, children are the most vulnerable.

The Firecracker Manufacturers Association, which was made a party to the case, told the court that crackers were not the sole cause of rising pollution and shutting down the entire industry would render millions jobless and lose US$150 million in annual revenue.

Published estimates say that India sells firecrackers worth US$900 million during Diwali, employing a huge network of sellers and resellers other than manufacturers.

The court noted a fundamental right to the livelihoods of firecracker manufacturers as well as the fundamental right to health of 1.33 billion Indians.

Environmentalist Vimalendu Jha said the court decision went against the interests of people. The "sale and use of firecrackers in current times, while half of our country turns into a gas chamber, will kill toddlers, children and elderly," he said in a tweet.

Petitioners' lawyer Gopal Sankarnarayan told media that they had expected a complete ban. He said the court's restrictions should be enforced strictly.

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According to a study by the Lancet Commission, India topped a list of air pollution-related deaths in Asia in 2015, followed by China and Pakistan.

Hindu spiritual guru Goswami Sushil Ji Maharaj welcomed the court verdict because it has "taken the middle path to solve the problem."

Father Savarimuthu Sankar, spokesman of Delhi Archdiocese, doubted whether the court order would be implemented, noting that the firecracker ban last year in Delhi was violated. "We don't have any mechanism to check it but at the same time the verdict was the need of the hour," he said.

The priest advocated awareness creation. "All must know how much it can harm them, their younger ones and the environment. Understanding the dangers will help people stop it," he said.

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