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The Supreme Court today temporarily lifted its earlier order suspending the permanent licences for sale of fire crackers in the national capital region, saying a complete ban would be an "extreme step" and a graded approach was needed to curb pollution caused by them.
The apex court, however, said its order lifting the ban on sale of fire crackers might require a "review" after Diwali depending on the ambient air quality after the festival.
It also set up a committee to study the impact of the firecrackers on the health of Delhi'ites during the upcoming festivals and directed the police to slash by half the number of temporary licences this year compared to last year and cap it at 500.
Though its primary concern was the human right to breathe good quality air, the court said after considering the material on record, it cannot be said with certainty that the extreme poor air quality in Delhi in November-December last year was caused only by the bursting of crackers during the festivals.
"Consequently, a complete ban on the sale of fireworks would be an extreme step that might not be fully warranted by the facts available to us. There is, therefore, some justification for modifying the interim order passed on 11th November, 2016 and lifting the suspension of the permanent licences. ....
"The suspension of permanent licences as directed by the order dated November 11, 2016 is lifted for the time being. This might require a review after Diwali depending on the ambient air quality post-Diwali," a bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said.
"However, it is made explicit that the sale of fireworks by the permanent licensees must conform to the directions given above and must be fully in compliance with the Explosives Rules," the bench said while passing as many as 16 detailed directions in the matter.
The apex court had on November 11 last year suspended all licences which "permit sale of fire works, wholesale and retail" within the National Capital Region (NCR) territory.
Passing a slew of directions, the bench also constituted a committee, to be chaired by the chairperson of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), to conduct a research on the impact of the fire crackers during the festive season of Dussehra and Diwali on the health of people and submit a report by December 31.
Stressing on the adverse effects of air pollution and the "human right to breathe clean air and right to health", the top court asked the Centre and the concerned authorities to consider encouraging the display fireworks through community participation rather than individual bursting of fireworks.
The court said since there was lack of clarity on safety limits of various metals and ingredients used in fireworks, a research study must be jointly carried out by the CPCB and Fireworks Development Research Centre (FDRC) for laying down appropriate standards for ambient air quality in relation to bursting of crackers and release of their constituents in air.
It granted time to the CPCB to come out with definite standards on or before September 30 regarding the use of metals or other ingredients of fireworks as no standards have been laid down with regard to concentration of these metals in the ambient air.
The court directed the Delhi Police to reduce the grant of temporary licences by about 50 per cent of the number of licences granted last year.
"The number of temporary licences should be capped at 500. Similarly, the states in the NCR are restrained from granting more than 50 per cent of the number of temporary licences granted in 2016. The area of distribution of the temporary licences is entirely for the authorities to decide," the bench said.
It also asked the Centre to ensure strict compliance with its January 1992 notification regarding the ban on import of fireworks and granted it liberty to update and revise it in view of the passage of time and issue a fresh notification, if necessary.
The top court also prohibited transport of fireworks into Delhi and the NCR from outside the region till further orders.
"In our opinion, even 50,00,000 kg of fireworks is far more than enough for Dussehra and Diwali in 2017. The permanent licensees are at liberty to exhaust their existing stock of fireworks in Delhi and the NCR and, if that is not possible, take measures to transport the stocks outside Delhi and the NCR," it said.
While lifting suspension on the permanent licences, the bench said, "we put these licensees on notice for Dussehra and Diwali in 2018 that they will be permitted to possess and sell only 50 per cent of the quantity permitted in 2017 and that this will substantially reduce over the next couple of years".
It, however, granted them liberty to file objections to this direction within 30 days.
The bench directed the police and district magistrates to ensure that fire crackers are not burst in "silence zones", an area at least 100 metres away from hospitals, educational institutions, courts and religious places or any other area that has been declared a 'silence zone' by the authorities.
It asked the department of education of the states in Delhi-NCR to formulate a plan of action within 15 days to reach out to children in schools to educate them on the health hazards and ill-effects of breathing polluted air, including the air polluted due to fireworks.
The bench asked these states to "consider interacting with established medical institutions for issuing advisories cautioning people about health hazards of bursting fireworks".
It also "made absolute" its July 31 interim direction prohibiting use of "compounds of antimony, lithium, mercury, arsenic and lead in manufacture of fireworks" and also banned the use of strontium chromate in manufacture of fireworks.
The apex court's order came on the pleas of fire cracker manufacturers seeking relaxation of its November 2016 order.