The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday imposed a total ban on sale or use of all kinds of firecrackers in the National Capital Region (NCR) from November 9 midnight to November 30 midnight, saying "celebration by crackers is for happiness and not to celebrate deaths and diseases." A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel clarified that the direction will apply to all cities and towns in the country where the average of ambient air quality during November 2019 was in 'poor' and above categories.
"There will be total ban against sale or use of all kinds of firecrackers in the NCR from midnight of November 9-10, 2020, to the midnight of November 30- December 1, 2020, to be reviewed thereafter," the NGT said. "The cities/towns where air quality is 'moderate' or below, only green crackers be sold, and the timings for use and bursting of crackers be restricted to two hours during festivals like Diwali, Chhath, New Year/Christmas Eve etc., as may be specified by the state concerned.
"At other places, ban/restrictions are optional for the authorities but if there are more stringent measures under orders of the authorities, the same will prevail," the bench said.
The NGT also directed all states and Union Territories to initiate special drives to contain air pollution from all sources in view of the potential of aggravation of COVID-19.
"Celebration by crackers is for happiness. It is not to celebrate deaths and diseases. Happiness of a few at the cost of lives of others is not the value in Indian society which stands for happiness and well-being of all," the bench added.
The tribunal directed chief secretaries and DGPs of all states and UTs to issue and circulate orders with appropriate enforcement guidelines to all district magistrates, superintendents of police and state pollution control boards.
"The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the state pollution control boards may regularly monitor the air quality during this period which may be uploaded on their respective websites.
"The CPCB may compile information on the subject, including the status of compliance of this order from all states/UTs and file a consolidated report with data compiled till filing of report, before the next date by e-mail," the bench further said.
The green panel said financial loss or loss of employment cannot be a consideration not to remedy the situation affecting the lives and the health of the citizens, aggravated by COVID.
"While it is true that any restriction on sale and use of crackers may affect the business and employment, at the same time, if use of crackers results in pollution and affects life and health of the citizens and the environment, such use may have to be restricted/prohibited to effectuate the 'Sustainable Development' principle, the NGT said.
"Citizens are entitled to breathe fresh air, a right which cannot be defeated on the grounds that enforcement of such right will lead to the closing of such business activity. If authorities do not take action, the tribunal has to exercise its jurisdiction," the bench, also comprising Justice S K Singh, said.
It said the right of trade is not absolute and subject to the 'Sustainable Development' principle, which is part of the right to life. In an emergency situation, emergency measures may be required in the interest of life and health of citizens.
The contention that COVID does not add to the adverse health impact due to pollution has to be rejected in view of studies and decisions of some of the authorities themselves, it said.
The NGT had on November 2 issued a notice to the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and four states on whether use of firecrackers be banned from November 7 to 30 in the interest of public health and environment.
The tribunal's direction came on a plea by Indian Social Responsibility Network, filed through Santosh Gupta, seeking action against pollution by use of firecrackers in the NCR during the time air quality is unsatisfactory with the potential of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. It had later registered the matter suo moto.