The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Delhi police not to issue temporary licences for sale and storage of any kind of firecrackers, saying when the city government has banned all firecrackers no distinction can be made on the basis of whether it is green or not.
A bench of Justices AS Bopanna and MM Sundresh reserved its verdict on a plea seeking ban on firecrackers containing barium to curb pollution levels including in the Delhi-NCR region.
"We have to see what level of work has been done over the years and whether any additional directions are required to be issued. We see that most of the aspects have been taken care of by various orders passed by this court from time to time," the bench observed as it reserved its verdict on a batch of pleas.
"When there is a ban imposed by the government it means complete ban. Ban is for firecrackers. We don't understand the distinction between green or black -- just ensure that no temporary licences are given by the Delhi police. Giving licences of any kind will be in violation of our orders," the bench told Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Centre and Delhi police.
She said since the 2018 order of the apex court when conventional firecrackers were banned in the Delhi-NCR region, a lot of work has been done and only green firecrackers are allowed.
Bhati said no permanent licences for sale of firecrackers have been issued since 2016 and temporary licences which were issued are for green crackers. These licences also get suspended when the government imposes a complete ban, she said.
The bench asked Bhati as to what is the action plan of the Delhi police keeping in mind the complete ban imposed by the city government and the festival season ahead.
"Delhi police have finalised an action plan as per which police station-wise teams will be constituted to check sale, storage and bursting of firecrackers. Besides these teams, there will be flying squads which will do random inspections of market places and other areas," she said, adding residents, including resident welfare associations, will be sensitised.
The bench said sensitisation and creating awareness alone will not work as despite firecrackers are burst despite ban, and the Delhi police have to reach the source from where these fireworks come to the city.
Agreeing with the court's observation, Bhati said no system is foolproof and police have acted upon wherever there was violation of the ban. In the past two years, she said, over 27,000 kg of firecrackers have been seized.
"For the past 30 years this court has been issuing directions to curb pollution in the national capital and since 2015 directions are being issued on bursting of firecrackers but still pollution levels sometimes get alarming. Governments, including the Centre and states like Delhi, UP, Haryana and Rajasthan, are fighting a battle against pollution at various levels," she said.
Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, representing a group of minors who filed the main petition in 2015 seeking a complete ban on firecrackers, said he is not pressing for a blanket ban but proscription of only those firecrackers that contain barium, which is harmful.
"This problem of pollution has travelled far beyond Delhi and even cities like Bangalore and Chennai are witnessing alarming rising in particulate matter levels," he said, adding there are multiple reasons for the rise in pollution levels.
He said for reasons best known to the governments of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan, which have areas falling in the National Capital Region (NCR), have failed to act on the sale and storage of firecrackers containing barium and licences were given to the stockists.
Pointing to a firecracker manufacturer association, which is before the court seeking modification of the court's ban order, Sankaranarayanan said they are seeking orders for firecrackers containing barium through their website and assuring delivery to any location in India within 48 hours.
"All I am saying is that violations are replete and the court needs to direct strict implementation of its directions which have been passed earlier. Firecracker manufacturers and the Centre have not shown a single document which tells us that barium is not harmful," he said.
The bench said both CSIR and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) have said in their report that barium chloride can be used in firecrackers.
"We should learn to trust our expert bodies," the bench said, adding NEERI is expected to look at the harmful effects of barium on people's health and has submitted its report.
Senior advocate Shyam Divan, appearing for firecracker manufacturers, said they are using a formulation which has been suggested by CSIR-NEERI and other government bodies, and barium nitrate which has been approved as an oxidiser.
On Wednesday, the top court had refused to interfere with the Delhi government's order putting a comprehensive ban on manufacture, storage, sale and bursting of firecrackers in the city, saying people's health is important.
BJP Lok Sabha member Manoj Tiwari submitted a complete ban was imposed by the city government on firecrackers despite the court allowing bursting of green firecrackers.
On September 11, to combat high pollution levels during the winter months, Delhi's Environment Minister Gopal Rai announced a comprehensive ban on the manufacture, storage, sale and bursting of firecrackers in the national capital.
Observing that regulations become a "mockery" if not implemented, the top court had on August 31 asked the Centre and regulatory bodies like the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization (PESO), formerly known as Department of Explosives, to apprise it of measures taken to strengthen the protocols to ban production and sale of non-green firecrackers across the country.