Not a Crackling Diwali; NGT Imposes Ban on Sale and Bursting of Crackers

In its recent order, the NGT (National Green Tribunal) Delhi has imposed a ban on the selling of firecrackers from the mid night of November 9-10, 2020 to the midnight of November 30- December 1, 2020, and further directed that this order would have to be reviewed accordingly thereafter.

The Tribunal banned the selling of all the firecrackers including green firecrackers as selling firecrackers will increase mortality because of going on Covid-19 situations.

Background-

Concerning the Covid-19 pandemic and approaching winter, the States of Odisha, Rajasthan, Sikkim, NCT Delhi (DPCC), and UT Chandigarh prohibited the sale and use of firecrackers for the protection of vulnerable groups like the elderly, children, persons with comorbidities, and others.

They also relied on the recommendations of the Technical Expert Committee which stated that the prohibition was necessary to avoid harmful health impact as the bursting of crackers would aggravate Covid-19 due to increased pollution. 

Various petitions were also filed in various states regarding the degrading quality of air due to pollution and its bad effect on the health and lives of the people. These petitions also raised the issue that how the sale and use of firecrackers would be dangerous for the people.

Thereafter, the Tribunal heard these petitions together and issued notice to 18 states and Union Territories.

Issue-

All these petitions were filed for seeking remedial actions for the pollution caused by the usage of firecrackers as they may be a danger to the health and lives of the venerable groups.

Contentions of the Respondent-

  • State of Haryana contended that such a ban was not required for them but if the Hon’ble Tribunal seemed fit then it may impose such a ban on the districts falling within the territory of NCR for the aforesaid period.
  • Counsel fo Tamil Nadu argued that the ban was unjustified because it would affect the livelihood of the workers and manufacturers. The state of Punjab told the Tribunal the level of air quality was satisfactory or moderate within its territory for certain months. A similar stand was taken by the Assam PCB and Tamil Nadu.
  • The Indian Fireworks Manufacturers’ Association, Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu also filed and claimed to be the largest association of manufacturers of firecrackers in Sivakasi. On the basisi of decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court dated 23.10.2018 in Writ Petition No. 728/2015, Arjun Gopal v. Union of India, they contended that the crackers with reduced emission and green crackers were permitted under this order, while others were banned.

Contentions of the Amicus Curie

  • Relying on the studies, The Amicus Curie argued that Long-term exposure to air pollution could cause various health issues associated with increased vulnerability to Covid-19. These diseases were diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and chronic obstructive lung diseases.  
  • He further that exposure to air pollution was shown to affect the defense of the body immune as well as to increased susceptibility to respiratory and other infections. Further, the studies of the SARS-CoV-1 outbreak in 2002-2004 revealed the association between higher air pollution levels and higher than expected death rates for that disease. 
  • He also contended that few early studies of COVID-19 similarly suggested that areas with higher air pollution levels experienced higher rates of infection or case fatalities.
  • The learned Amicus curie also stated that the Hon’ble Supreme Court had not considered the Covid-19 while permitting limited use of green crackers.
  • He further stated that green crackers partly reduced the pollution, though it could be hazardous and what was permitted during normal time could not be permitted during covid-19.
  • It was also emphasized the invoking precautionary principle as per the law laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
  • Further, relied relied on some media reports and global trends where the death caused due to the nexus between air pollution and covid19 was shown. He argued that this raising number of death happened due to increasing air pollution

He relied on the following studies-

  • ‘A. Pozzer et al, ‘Regional and global contributions of air pollution to the risk of death from COVID-19’ Cardiovascular Research revised on 3.10.2020.
  • Aparna Banerjea, ‘After studies, it’s clear that air pollution contributes to Covid mortality: ICMR’ Mint, 27 October 2020.
  • Sandipan Talukdar, ‘Air Pollution May Account for 15% of COVID-19 Deaths Worldwide, Says New Study’, News Click, 28 October 2020.
  • The CPCB report titled ‘Report on Ambient Noise Levels & Ambient Air Quality during Deepawali Festival 2018 & 2019’.
  • ‘State of Global Air 2020’ report released by the Health Effects Institute and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s Global Burden of Disease Project.9
  • Report: ‘India recorded the highest infant deaths due to air pollution in 2019, shows study’, Scroll.in, 21 October 2020

Respondent’s reply to the submission of Amicus Curie

  • The respondent contended that regulation and restriction on firecrackers need not be called if either there were some new formulations which ensure no increase in air pollution or there are some scientific proofs that pollution does not impact covid-19.
  • He further said that ban on firecrackers would result in financial loss and loss of employment to lacs of the worker.

Observations of the Tribunal-

  • The Tribunal observed that “While it was true that any restriction on the sale and use of crackers may affect the business and employment, at the same time if the use of crackers results in pollution and affects life and health of the citizens and the environment, such use could be restricted to effectuate the ‘Sustainable Development’ principle of which ‘Precautionary’ principle was a part, according to the mandate of Section 20 read with Section 15 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010.”
  • The Tribunal took the view that air pollution aggravates Covid-19, therefore crackers should be banned, and depending upon air quality, all States/UTs, PCBs/PCCs must take special initiative to contain air pollution by regulating all other sources of pollution, particularly during Covid-19. No doubt pollution for crackers being the seasonal source, particular focus was required thereupon.

Therefore, based on the observations regarding the adverse effect of firecrackers during Covid-19 on the health and lives of the people,

the Tribunal passed the following directions-

  • There will be a total ban against the use or sale of all kinds of firecrackers in the NCR from midnight of 09.11.2020 to the midnight of 01.12.2020 viewed thereafter.
  • The above Direction shall also apply to all cities where the average of AQI during November is in poor category.
  • For cities with moderate and below AQI, only green crackers wiill be allowed for a particular time period only.

The tribunal further ordered to send a copy of this order to the MoEF&CC, CPCB, Chief Secretaries and DGPs, State PCBs/PCCs, and District Magistrates of all the States/UTs and by e-mail for Compliance.

The matter shall be listed on 1.12.2020 for further consideration.

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