Supreme Court Judgment- Arjun Gopal v. Union of India W.P. (Civil) No. 728 Of 2015
On November 7th 2017, the residents of New Delhi, the capital of India woke up to a rather disastrous morning. The city had been engulfed in a cloud with low visibility. People thought that the winter had come knocking, but no it wasn’t the winters that had come it was a cloud of smoke and pollution which made the city choke.
It was called ‘smog’. The effect of Smog was so bad that it affected an International cricket match being played between India and Sri Lanka. A public health emergency was declared in the city by the doctors and stepping out of the house was similar to entering into a gas chimney.
The whole country is facing issues with air pollution and the moment festivities involving the burning of firecrackers arrive, the pollution levels increase to a new high every time. The instant case revolves around these lines and is an important development in the Indian Environmental Law.
This petition was filed by the fathers of some newly born infants who were concerned about the health of their children in the wake of the alarming degradation of the air quality, which lead to severe air pollution in the city of Delhi and the likely hood result of the same was various health hazards.
Their claim was that whether the air quality was poor or very poor, it still affected all the citizens, irrespective of their age, but, children were much more vulnerable to air pollutants and it could result into asthma, coughing, bronchitis, retarded nervous system breakdown, and even cognitive impairment etc.
It was stated that the pollution in the city of Delhi and National Capital Region reached its peak during the time of Diwali due to indiscriminate use of firecrackers whose chemical composition resulted in high levels of pollutants and brought the situation to ‘emergency’.
The petition had a sole focus which was aimed at curbing seasonal crop burning, indiscriminate dumping of dust/malba and other pollutants, etc. The petition also requested to ban the use of firecrackers, sparklers, explosives in any forms during festivals.
Initially the Petitioner’s made several suggestions to the court such as restricting licenses to low hazard fireworks, restricting fireworks from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., directions to Government to widely publicise the ill effects of fireworks and encourage restraint on responsible use, and encouraging the teachers to ask the students from not buying and using firecrackers.
The petitioners also stressed heavily for interim measures with regard to the firecrackers by showing as to how the use of firecrackers was having an adverse effect on the environment. It was also pointed out that the manufacturers of fireworks were employing child labour. At one point of time, almost one lakh children were employed.
It was also argued that the manufacturing of firecrackers was generating immense waste which was adding pollution since sufficient measures were not undertaken to deal with waste.
The petitioner’s placed reliance on the case of Vellore Citizens’ Welfare Forum case (1996) 5 SCC 647 and argued that burning of firecrackers was not a religious right.
The respondents argued that there were no sufficient studies which could prove or show that the burning of crackers is contributing towards air and noise pollution and whether it was such a serious problem that it required a ban.
It was further argued that burning of crackers during Diwali does not have any significant adverse affect on the environment. Reliance was placed on a Deepawali Monitoring Report, 2017 of CPCB wherein it was contented that the factors which were responsible for the problem were not use of crackers during Diwali.
It was also argued that the revenue which was generated from the manufacturing and sale of fireworks went upto the amount of Rs.6,000 crores per annum and the cracker industry had given employment to almost five lakh families. As such the families of so many people would be made unemployed if a ban was imposed and therefore a balanced approach was required.
During the course of hearing the petition, the Supreme Court of India had given various orders and had asked the departments to conduct and place reports regarding air pollution and firecrackers. The court after going through the various reports and arguments gave several directions:
- Those crackers having reduced emission and green crackers would only be allowed to be manufactured and sold. All other types of crackers are banned.
- The manufacture, sale and use of joined firecrackers was banned since they caused huge air, noise and solid waste problems.
- Only a registered and licensed trader can sell firecrackers.
- E-commerce websites cannot indulge in selling firecrackers and the contravention of the same would attract serious penalties.
- Use of barium salts in fireworks was banned.
- The timings for burning the firecrackers on Diwali days or on any other festivals like Gurpurab , was fixed from 8:00 p.m. till 10:00 p.m. only.
- On Christmas and New Year eve, fireworks were allowed from 11:55 p.m. till 12:30 a.m. only.
- The Governments were directed to allow community fire-cracking on festivals and for this purpose, they were directed to identify and designate areas or fields. An area designated for Diwali shall also be used for community fire-cracking on other occasions as well.
- All the officials and the Police were directed to ensure that the fireworks take place only during the designated time and at designated places.
- They were also directed to ensure that there is no sale of banned firecrackers and in case any violation was found, then the Station House Officer (SHO) of the concerned Police Station of the area would be held liable for the violation.