SC dismisses plea against NGT ban on firecrackers in Delhi


The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a challenge to a National Green Tribunal (NGT) ban on the sale and use of firecrackers during the COVID-19 pandemic in the National Capital Region (NCR) and all cities and towns where the ambient air quality is in the poor or above categories.

A Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar said it did not require a report by the Indian Institute of Technology to know that firecrackers were bad for the lungs.

The court reminded the petitioners, mostly firecracker manufacturers who said the ban was an impediment to their livelihoods, that the world was in the middle of a pandemic.

The NGT had noted in its December 2020 order that only green crackers would be permitted for Christmas and New Year – between 11:55 pm and 12:30 am – in areas where the ambient air quality was in the moderate or below categories. District magistrates were directed to ensure that firecrackers were not sold and violators would have to pay compensation. The Tribunal had reasoned that the “right to business is not absolute. There is no right to violate air quality and noise level norms”.

The court agreed with the Tribunal order and said no further clarification was required on the issue.

In 2017, the apex court had banned the use and sale of toxic crackers on the basis of a petition filed by two infants, a six-month-old and 14-month-old. They had said the air pollution caused by various factors, especially firecrackers, had made Delhi a gas chamber. They pleaded for their right to life. The court had said the sale of green and improved crackers would be only through licensed traders. It dismissed arguments that bursting crackers was a fundamental right and an essential practice during religious festivals like Diwali.

“We feel that Article 25 [right to religion] is subject to Article 21 [right to life]. If a particular religious practice is threatening the health and lives of people, such practice is not to entitled to protection under Article 25… Our endeavour is to strive at balancing of two rights, namely, right of the petitioners under Article 21 and right of the manufacturers and traders under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution,” Justice Sikri had observed in the 54-page judgment.

“If the situation is covered by general directions of the Supreme Court, it must be followed in letter and spirit. In other words, these appeals are devoid of merit and are dismissed,” Justice Khanwilkar’s Bench said on Friday.

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