SC's refusal to hear plea for nationwide firecracker ban has adverse ramifications for environment

It seems that firecrackers will continue to be sold across the country for a long time, with tradition and religious festivities trumping over the concern for environment

Photo courtesy: IANS
Photo courtesy: IANS

Amarabati Bhattacharyya

A Supreme Court (SC) bench comprising Chief Justice UU Lalit and Justice Hemant Gupta on Wednesday refused an urgent listing for a plea that requested for a nationwide ban on crackers for Diwali this year.

The SC said the petition was brought to notice too close to the festival and that vendors must have already set up stalls and purchases must have been made.

“You come at the peak of time. Diwali is right around the corner. People have already invested in the firecracker business and now injuncting this will lead to losses etc. You should have come a few months earlier. Come after Diwali now,” was CJI Lalit’s statement, as reported by Live Law. 

Meanwhile in Delhi, the city that ranks the highest in pollution in the nation, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) on September 14 called for a complete ban on manufacturing, storage, sale and bursting of all kinds of firecrackers.

The SC has, however, considered a plea challenging this ban that asks for bursting ‘green-crackers’ – which several environmentalists have regarded as a misnomer and equally dangerous for the environment.

Notably, a bench led by Justice MR Shah also considered a plea challenging the overall ban on firecrackers in Delhi, petitioned by BJP MP Manoj Tiwari, citing religious sentiments.

“I have been selling crackers for the past seven years and since the 2020 ruling, I have stopped selling crackers that make a loud noise, such as ‘chocolate bombs', but otherwise I’m still selling all the same crackers such as phuljhari, rang mashal, tubri, etc,” says Gourango Samanta, a street-vendor who sits at Garia, Kolkata. 

For Samanta, who has several streams of income, one of his most lucrative businesses is setting up a stall during various festivals – he sits at the same spot during Holi and sells colors. “No, this is not my only business but crackers sell like hotcakes during Diwali and this profit lets me celebrate the festival well with my family,” he adds.

Upon being asked if he thinks the Supreme Court judgment is primarily beneficial for businesses, at a steep cost to the environment, Samanta says that bursting crackers is an age-old tradition during Diwali and it will continue to happen despite the environmental repercussions.

In the same stretch of Garia, wherein several firecracker stalls are put up despite the scorching Kolkata heat, the other vendors seemed apprehensive of answering questions pertaining to the very article they were selling. Perhaps the apprehension arose from sheer indifference or a certain fear that their product isn’t exactly the safest thing to sell.

Coupled with the fact that India ranks at the tail-end of the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2022 – 180th among 180 countries with an alarming score of 18.9, this dismissal also comes at a crucial juncture wherein the nation is well-underway into conversations around bursting firecrackers and how it greatly adds to the pollution level that is already skyrocketing.

Subhas Dutta, a Kolkata-based environmental activist who has fought against air pollution in the city for over 30 years, believes that the Indian judicial system “lacks severely” in many areas. “The SC’s refusal of the plea is simply a business tactic and they are just playing favorites,” he says.

“Saying that people have already invested so it’s no longer feasible to place a ban is just lazy judiciary – their job is to ensure maximum benefit for the maximum number of people, which they have historically proven to not be capable of,” he adds.

Commenting on the justification given by SC, Dutta quips: “Today, if I invest in smuggling illegal goods and engage a lot of people, that will also churn lucrative business, but is that reason enough to not place a ban on my activities? It’s outrageous to hear this logic when there are grave environmental concerns here.”

The SC’s nonchalant stance on completely curbing the use of firecrackers in Delhi, and making room for ‘green-crackers’, has provoked the environmental activism community once again.

“It's frustrating and disappointing to see how critical and urgent environmental issues are being put on hold time and again. Especially in a city like Delhi, firecrackers add to the already very high levels of air pollution. We can’t afford to wait to make changes that will make a measurable difference,” says Tanvi Sawant, Program Lead at All Living Things Environmental Film Festival, a platform that compels films to raise awareness around critical environmental issues. 

The prime argument challenging the firecracker ban is underscored by a narrative that believes in “anti-Hindu propaganda” and the ban to protect the environment is perceived as a way to deliberately hurt Hindu sentiments. 

Unroll Media, a platform that posts content featuring alleged “anti-Hindu” activities, has tweeted on the plea: “The firecracker ban in Delhi will likely be used as a template for an eventual countrywide ban. Destroying the cracker industry is a sure way to prime the people in the staunchly Hindu belt of Sivakasi for religious conversion.”

Green or not, the SCs “come after Diwali” statement falls in perfect sync with Samanta’s belief that crackers will continue to be sold at various corners of the country for a long time – that tradition and religious festivities will trump over the environment, for a long long time. 

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