New Delhi: Asserting that school children should be encouraged to refrain from bursting firecrackers, the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed police not to grant more than 500 temporary licences for retail sale of fireworks during the Dussehra-Diwali season and also capped the sale of fireworks at 5,000 tonnes.
Directing the Delhi Police to reduce grant of temporary licences by about 50 per cent of those issued in 2016, a bench of Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta also restrained Haryana and Uttar Pradesh from granting more than 50 per cent of the licences granted in 2016 in the National Capital Region in their respective jurisdictions.
"The area of distribution of temporary licences is entirely for authorities to decide," the court said as it amended its November 11, 2016 order suspending all licences for the sale of fireworks, both wholesale and retail, within the NCR.
"The suspension of permanent licences, as directed by the November 11 order, is lifted for the time being. This might require a review after Diwali, depending on the ambient air quality after the festival," it said.
Lifting the suspension, Justice Lokur, speaking for the bench, said: "In our considered opinion, continuing the suspension of licences might be too radical a step to take for the present - a graded and balanced approach is necessary that will reduce and gradually eliminate air pollution in Delhi and in the NCR caused by the bursting of fireworks."
The graded and balanced approach is not intended to dilute the primary concern which is and remains the health of everybody and the human right to breathe good quality air or at least not be compelled to breathe poor quality air, he said, adding that this "must take precedence over the commercial or other interest of the applicant and those granted a permanent licence to possess and sell fireworks".
On lifting the November 11, 2016 ban, the court said that from the material before them, "it cannot be said with any great degree of certainty that the extremely poor quality of air in Delhi in November and December 2016 was the result only of bursting fireworks around Diwali" but this cannot "be glossed over".
The apex court also directed that areas within 100 metres radius of hospitals, nursing homes, primary and district healthcare centres, educational institutions, courts, religious places would be declared silence zones.
Police and District Magistrate concerned would ensure that firecrackers are not burst in these silence zones, the court ordered.
It also said that no firecrackers would be allowed to enter Delhi and the NCR from other regions, and the Central government would ensure strict compliance with the 1992 notification on this.
However, it left a window open for the government to revise the 1992 notification in view of the "passage of time and further knowledge gained over the last 25 years".
The court said the Education Departments in Delhi, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh would take steps within 15 days to reach out to students to sensitise and educate them on the health hazards and ill-effects of breathing polluted air, including air polluted by fireworks.
While making absolute its July 31 direction that prohibited use of metals like antimony, lithium, mercury, arsenic, and lead in the manufacture of fireworks, the court permitted the sale of fireworks containing aluminium, sulphur, potassium, and barium. It would be subject to the composition already approved by the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation, the court said.
The court appointed a committee headed by Central Pollution Control Board Chairperson to study the impact of fireworks during Diwali on public health and submit a report by December 31.
This would include members from the National Physical Laboratory at Delhi, Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences at Delhi, Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur, scientists from state Pollution Control Boards, Fire Development and Research Centres at Sivakasi and Nagpur, and National Environment Engineering Research Institute at Delhi.