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The Supreme Court recently said that a preliminary inquiry by the CBI into the firecracker industry revealed a rampant violation of its ban on the use of toxic ingredients like barium and its salts in firecrackers. Earlier, the court prima facie brushed aside the manufacturers’ contention that thousands of employees earned their livelihood in the industry. In this article, we will explain the issues surrounding the firecracker ban in India.
What are the recent observations by the Supreme Court on the firecracker ban?
In March 2020, the court ordered the CBI Joint Director in Chennai to conduct a “detailed” probe into allegations of violation of the court ban in 2018. The CBI had filed a report in a sealed cover in the court. The Supreme Court while referring to the report, observed that chemical analysis showed barium content in the samples. The court said loose quantities of barium and its salts were purchased from the market.
The court also held that “We have to balance between employment, unemployment and the right to life and health of citizens. We cannot sacrifice the lives of many for a few. Our prime focus is the right to life of innocent people.”
The case gained significance with the onset of the wedding season and festivals like Dussehra and Deepawali. The court also observed that “Every day, there is a violation in firecracker usage… in religious processions, political rallies”. So, the court wanted to fix liability on the authorities in charge.
Firstly, In 2017, the SC had banned the use and sale of toxic crackers on the basis of a petition filed by two infants who pleaded for their right to life. During the case, the court also dismissed arguments that bursting crackers was a fundamental right and an essential practice during religious festivals like Diwali.
In this case, the court held that the Right to Freedom of Religion (Article 25) is subject to the Right to life (Article 21). The court also mentioned that If a particular religious practice is threatening the health and lives of people, such practice is not entitled to protection under Article 25. The court banned 5 toxic chemicals used in firecrackers
|Must read: 5 chemicals banned in firecrackers|
Secondly, In 2018, the Supreme Court (SC) has imposed conditions for the use and sale of firecrackers. The court held that only green or improved crackers would be used during religious festivals and other occasions, including weddings.
The court also fixed the time slots for bursting crackers. The judgement reduced the time for bursting crackers during Deepavali and other festivals to two hours: between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. For Christmas and New Year, the time slot allowed is just half an hour, between 11.55 p.m. and half-past midnight.
|Read more: SC moves to make festivals less noisy|
Thirdly, In the December 2020 order, the NGT mentioned that only green crackers would be permitted to use for Christmas and New Year in areas where the ambient air quality was in the moderate or below categories.
|Read more: Firecrackers ban ahead of festival season|
What is the rationale behind the ban on Firecrackers?
Air pollution: Studies in Europe, Canada, and China have established links between fireworks bursting and variations in air quality. Fine particulates increase short-term pollution to record levels. This was visible in Delhi prior to the regulations.
Health issues: Firecrackers contain lots of heavy metals and toxic chemicals like cadmium, lead, chromium, aluminium, etc. which, if accumulated, can eventually damage health if inhaled or ingested.
Firecrackers can cause various severe effects on the health of people, especially for people with heart diseases, respiratory or nervous system disorders. Even people suffering from common colds and coughs can cause congestion of the throat and chest.
Effect on Children: A 2007 study published in ‘Atmospheric Environment’ magazine established that children were at greater risk due to cracker-enhanced particulate matter in the air. Further, Firecrackers can also lead to poor cognitive development in kids.
Effect on animals: As per the India Chest Society, effects of firecrackers on pets include hearing loss, blood pressure, sleep disturbances, heart ailments, and nausea effects on pets.
Noise pollution: Firecrackers are the source of Noise pollution. The noise can cause restlessness, high blood pressure, temporary or permanent hearing loss. Further, if blasted at night, it can cause sleep disturbances.
Manufacturing hazards in firecrackers: Workers in the firecracker industry develop serious respiratory diseases. Further, there is mushrooming of Unlicensed units with unsafe working conditions, leading to frequent accidents in firecracker industries. Apart from that, fire accidents can occur if fireworks are handled incorrectly during sale and use.
|Read more: Causes of accidents in firework industry|
Effect of firecrackers on Environment: Use of paper for shells of firecrackers results in Loss of trees. The firework reaction products are deposited in an unsafe manner. They enter the soil, crops water bodies and pollute them too.
|Read more: SC points out ambiguous impact of explosives used in firecrackers|
What are the issues associated with the ban on Firecracker?
Loss to Economy: The Indian firecracker industry is the second largest in the world. The Indian Fireworks’ industry boasts of over Rs. 6000-crores worth of annual turnover. The firecracker industry has also witnessed an annual growth rate of about 10 percent prior to the ban.
Tamil Nadu has legitimate concerns about the fate of the firecracker industry. As Sivakasi region in Tamil Nadu alone holds 85 % of the manufacturing of firecrackers in the country.
Loss of Livelihood for workers: The fireworks sector consists of over 500 industries and 60 ancillary units that are dependent on these industries. Further, the industry is providing employment opportunities to over 5 lakh families, mostly uneducated workers, directly or indirectly. The ban will directly lead to the closure of all industries and impact the livelihoods of employees directly.
Banning fireworks is infringing on religious rights: Burning firecrackers are closely related to the celebration of Joy. People burn firecrackers to express their happiness during festivals such as Diwali, Christmas, New Year, etc. The people believe that firecrackers are an inherent part of their culture and customs. For people to let go of their belief, culture, festival is not an easy thing.
Stricter implementation of environmental laws: It is important for the government to organize anti-firecracker campaigns and discourage people from bursting firecrackers. Parents, as well as children, should be educated on the harmful effects of firecrackers, and environmental laws should be implemented strictly.
Promote research and product development of green crackers: Green crackers do not contain harmful chemicals that would cause air pollution. In green crackers, the commonly used polluting chemicals like aluminum, barium, potassium nitrate, and carbon have either been removed or sharply reduced to slow down the emissions by 15 to 30%.
So, the government has to promote the manufacturing and sale of such crackers. This will not only help over 5 lakh families involved in the manufacturing of crackers but also help in boosting the Indian economy.
The Supreme Court in another instance said that it cannot ban firecrackers as it would deprive the livelihood of lakhs of families dependent on manufacturing firecrackers by creating unemployment. The court can ban the traditional and toxic firecrackers and force the industries to manufacture only the greener alternatives. This will create a middle path for the firecracker industry and ensure the celebration of festivals.