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'Let People Breathe Clean Air': SC Dismisses BJP Leader's Plea Against Cracker Ban In Delhi

In response to the ban on the manufacture, sale, storage and bursting of all firecrackers till January 1, 2023 ahead of Diwali, a plea filed by BJP MP Manoj Tiwari has contended that freedom of religion cannot be undermined in the pretext of right to life.

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Bringing the clamour around the cracker ban in Delhi ahead of the festival of Diwali, the Supreme Court on Thursday refused an urgent hearing of a plea seeking the removal of complete ban on firecrackers in the national capital "Let the people of Delhi breathe clean air," a bench led by Justices M R Shah and M M Sundresh stated. 

The bench was responding to a plea filed by BJP MP Manoj Tiwari. Days ahead of the Hindu festival of Diwali, the apex court refused to list the plea challenging the cracker ban. The bench told the counsel appearing for Tiwari that instead of firecrackers, people should spend their money on sweets.

 "Let the people of Delhi breathe clean air. People should not spend money on firecrackers instead they should eat sweets," the bench said and added that plea will be coming up for hearing along with the main matter pending before the court.  

Cracker ban in Delhi

The ban on bursting crackers on Diwali in the national capital was implemented after direction issued by Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) on September 14. As per the restrictions, there is a total ban on manufacturing, storage, sale and bursting of all kinds of firecrackers till January 1, 2023, in Delhi.

Concerns over pollution

The top court has previously expressed concern over pollution levels during Diwali.

On October 13, it refused to accord urgent hearing to a fresh plea against the cracker ban and had asked the petitioners to approach the Delhi High Court.  

On October 10, the top court had refused to stay the Delhi government's order banning storage, sale, and use of all types of firecrackers till January 1, 2023 to check pollution levels in the national capital, saying it doesn't want to add to the pollution of Delhi.

"You're a permanent resident of NCR, right? Have you seen the pollution? We do not want to add to the pollution. We are not dismissing your plea, we will consider it," the bench had told advocate Shashank Shekhar Jha, appearing for BJP MP Tiwari.

Delhi HC Also dismisses plea against cracker ban

This was not the only plea against the cracker ban that was heard in court on Thursday, October 20. 

Noting the pendency of issues related to firecrackers before the Supreme Court, the Delhi High Court on Thursdat also refused to entertain a petition challenging the ban on sale and use of all kinds of firecrackers in the national capital. The petition was filed by two merchants who sought to "purchase, sell and store only green crackers" during the festive season. Dismissing the plea, a single judge bench of Justice Yashwant Varma said it was not appropriate for the high court to independently examine such a challenge when the issue "does appear to be engaging the attention" of the top court.

The high court, however, said the petitioners were free to initiate appropriate proceedings under the law to seek redressal of their grievances. 

Freedom of religion vs Right to Life

While the courts are consistently raising the concern over pollution, the question of the cracker ban has been turned into a matter of freedom of religion vs right to life.

BJP's Manoj Tiwari has that freedom of religion cannot be taken away under the pretext of the right to life. On the matter of pollution, lawyers appearing for Tiwari have blamed stubble burning as the cause for a spike in AQI index during Diwali. 

Tiwari, whose plea has been filed through advocate Ashwani Kumar Dubey, also sought directions to all states not to take any coercive action like lodging FIR against common people found selling or using permissible firecrackers during the festival season, including Diwali.

BJP MP demands no 'blanket ban'

Last year, Supreme Court clarified there is no blanket ban on the use of firecrackers. Only those fireworks which contain barium salts are prohibited.

Tiwari has alleged despite the SC clarification several state governments and certain high courts had in 2021 passed orders for a blanket ban due to confusion regarding the rules.

"With so many different orders, directions and views, it was confusing for the people at large to understand whether the firecrackers were allowed or not despite this court's refusal to put a blanket ban," he said in the plea.

Tiwari has demanded that balance be struck between freedom of religion and right to life like the court's selective ban on certain crackers in 2021.

The petition alleged that despite clear orders of the top court, certain states and Union territories did not take necessary steps to ensure proper arrangements for the celebration of Diwali and instead registered FIRs and imposed curfew.

Tiwari's plea said such arrests and FIRs sent out a "very bad message" to the society at large and unnecessarily created "fear and anger" among the masses.

Environmental impact of crackers

Every year, Diwali sees Delhi's air quality worsen. The 24-hour average air quality index (AQI) the day after Diwali was 435 in 2020, 368 in 2019; 390 in 2018; 403 in 2017 and 445 in 2016. The AQI was 382 on Diwali day in 2021, 414 in 2020; 337 in 2019; 281 in 2018; 319 in 2017 and 431 in 2016, as per a report in Mint.

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An AQI between zero and 50 is considered 'good', 51 and 100 'satisfactory', 101 and 200 'moderate', 201 and 300 'poor', 301 and 400 'very poor', and 401 and 500 'severe'.

Last year, Dr BS Murthy, Project Director at SAFAR, had told Outlook that bursting crackers during Diwali had led to a significant increase in air pollution in Delhi. Bursting of crackers enhances the existing pollution (PM2.5) level by about 700 microgram meter cube in 7 hours. Thus, from 7 pm on November 4 to 2 am on November 5 on the night of Diwali, the pollution level peaked to about 1000 microgram m-3, he said.
 

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Murthy, however,had insisted that banning firecrackers was not the way. He was of the view that increasing awareness instead will a long way in educating children about celebrating an environmentally conscious Diwali.

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