Firecrackers would not be sold in Delhi-NCR during Diwali this year with the Supreme Court on Monday banning their sale till November 1, dealing a body blow to the traders and businessmen dealing in them.
The apex court said its last month's order, temporarily lifting the stay and permitting sale of firecrackers, would be made effective only from November one, 12 days after the 'festival of lights'.
The immediate effect of the order was also made clear by the top court which ordered "forthwith" suspension of temporary licences issued by the police for sale of firecrackers pursuant to the order of September 12.
A bench headed by Justice A K Sikri said that the November 11, 2016 order suspending the licences "should be given one chance to test itself" to see if there would be a positive effect of this, particularly during Diwali.
The court, in its last year's direction, had suspended all licenses which permits sale of fireworks, wholesale and retail within the territory of NCR till further orders.
The apex court in 2005 had also directed that there should be a complete ban on bursting sound-emitting firecrackers between 10 PM and 6 AM.
While referring to the air pollution levels in Delhi-NCR during and immediately after Diwali last year, the apex court on Monday observed that due to the adverse effects of burning of fire crackers, "the air quality deteriorates abysmally and alarmingly and the city chokes thereby".
It said the November 11 last year order, suspending all licences which "permit sale of fireworks, wholesale and retail within the territory of NCR", was passed by the court keeping in view the situation that had arisen after the last Diwali.
"This order prevailed during the year but the impact and effect of this order remains to be tested on Diwali days," the bench, also comprising Justices A M Sapre and Ashok Bhushan, said.
"Going by these considerations, we are of the opinion that the judgment dated September 12, 2017 passed by this court should be made effective only from November 1, 2017.
"To put it clearly, though we are not tweaking with the various directions contained in the order dated September 12, 2017, the effect of that order would not be given during this Diwali and, therefore, we are making it effective only from November 1, 2017," the court said.
"We are conscious of the fact that after the said (September 12) order was passed, the police may have issued temporary licences. Accordingly, those are suspended forthwith so that there is no further sale of the crackers in Delhi and NCR," it said.
Real time air quality monitoring for Delhi
The bench said that further orders on this issue can be passed after assessing the situation that would emerge after this Diwali season.
The top court observed that the adverse effects of firecrackers during Diwali have been witnessed year after year and last year, it had led to the closing of schools in Delhi and the authorities were compelled to take various measures on emergent basis when faced with 'health emergency' situation.
The bench noted in its order that there was direct evidence of deterioration of air quality at alarming levels, which happens every year during Diwali.
"As already pointed out above, burning of these fire crackers during Diwali in 2016 had shot up PM (particulate matter) levels by three times, making Delhi the worst city in the world, insofar as air pollution is concerned. Direct and immediate cause thereof was burning of crackers during Diwali," the bench said.
It also said that every year before Diwali, there were attempts on the part of government, media, NGOs and various other groups to create awareness among general public about the ill-effects of bursting of these firecrackers.
"Thus, there is virtually a consensus in the society that crackers should not be burnt during Diwali, which can be celebrated with equal fervour by various other means as well," it said.
"Irony is that when causes are brought in the Court, there is resistance from certain quarters. It cannot be denied that there are adequate statutory provisions, aid whereof can be taken to ban the sale of these crackers. It is one of the functions of the judges, in a democracy, to bridge the gap between law and the society.
"Here, furtunately, there is no such gap and the Court is only become facilitator in invoking the law to fulfill the need of the society," the court said.
Referring to the September 12, 2017 order, the court said it mentions that bursting of fire crackers was not the only cause for alarming air pollution in Delhi and NCR, but it was also acknowledged that it was one of the major causes.
It refused to further relax the September 12 order as sought by the firecrackers manufacturers and licence holders.
"It cannot be denied that there are various other factors which contribute to the air pollution in Delhi and NCR. There is a need to tackle those factors as well. However, what is the immediate impact of use of fireworks and fire crackers bursting during Diwali is an altogether different aspect," it said.
The apex court's order came on a plea seeking restoration of its November 2016 order.