HC says can’t ban firecrackers, sets 7 pm-10 pm time for bursting them in Mumbai in Diwali

Citizens have to choose between a disease-free environment and bursting firecrackers during Diwali, the Bombay High Court observed on Monday while limiting fireworks between 7 pm and 10 pm for Mumbai residents during the festival of lights starting later this week.

A division bench of Chief Justice D K Upadhyaya and Justice G S Kulkarni said while it was not going to order a ban on bursting of firecrackers, a balance needs to be struck considering the deteriorating air quality index (AQI) in the metropolis.

“We have to make a choice. Either we have a disease-free environment, or we burn firecrackers and celebrate the festival. Citizens have to decide now,” the court said.
“We are not banning it. We are not experts to understand if firecrackers impact the environment, and if they do, then up to what extent. We cannot straightaway say no bursting of firecrackers. That is for the government to consider,” it said.

The court noted that banning would not be easy as people have different opinions on the issue, and the right to practice one’s religion is enshrined in the Constitution.

“We can, however, fix a time limit for bursting crackers. The municipal corporation authorities shall ensure that bursting of firecrackers takes place only between 7 pm and 10 pm during Diwali,” the court ordered.

The bench directed that all vehicles transporting construction material and debris to construction sites must be covered completely with tarpaulin till Friday (November 10).
“We will monitor the situation till Friday. If the air quality continues to be poor, then we will stop the plying of vehicles carrying construction material and debris,” the bench warned.
The HC initially said it would put a complete ban on movement of such vehicles till Friday (November 10).

However, Maharashtra’s Advocate General Birendra Saraf and senior counsel Milind Sathe, appearing for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), opposed this and argued any such move would put a stop to the ongoing construction of all public projects such as the Coastal Road and the metro rail.

The bench then considered the request and said the plying of vehicles carrying construction material would be allowed, but they would have to be completely covered with tarpaulin.
“This is a major concern for dust in the air. Heavens are not going to fall if public projects like the Coastal Road are not done for a fortnight. Nothing can be more cascading than public health,” the bench observed.
“We are living on Earth, and we have created this situation ourselves. We have not led our lives naturally. We are dependent on nature, but also not dependent,” Chief Justice Upadhyaya said.

Considering Mumbai’s deteriorating air quality, the court had last week taken suo motu (on its own) cognisance and sought to know from all authorities concerned what measures they were taking to address the problem.

The bench on Monday emphasised the need for every authority to come together and take steps to address the poor air quality in the city and said that on paper everything appears to be in place, but the ground reality is different.

The court said it does not doubt the intentions of the authorities, but appropriate action is not taken and implemented strictly on the ground.

“Theoretically, on paper, everything appears to be in place, but the ground reality shows that nothing has been done,” it remarked.

The bench noted that the particulate matter in the air (presence of particles like dust, dirt, soot, smoke and liquid droplets which are hazardous for health) was so high that it was dangerous not just to human beings but to plants as well.

“It appears that though various action plans and other guidelines have been proclaimed, however, on account of poor or inadequate implementation of these mechanisms, the quality of air in Mumbai remains the same,” the court said.

The court, in a slew of directions, ordered the strict implementation of the Mumbai air pollution mitigation plan issued by the BMC in March 2023.

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The assistant municipal commissioner of each ward shall be held responsible and liable if there is a lapse in the compliance of the action plan, it said.

The bench further stated that all construction sites need to have a thin metal sheet around them, and to suppress dust, the developer must regularly sprinkle water around the sites and cover and clear debris.

The bench directed the authorities to ensure that there is no burning of waste in open spaces.

The court has set up a two-member committee headed by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and the director of the state health department to monitor the steps taken by civic corporations.
The court said it would hear the plea further on November 10.

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