"You have more firecrackers than the Indian Army. This can burn the whole country," the Supreme Court said on Monday after it was informed that 50 lakh kgs of fireworks were stocked in and around the National Capital Region (NCR).
A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta also observed that "Diwali is celebrated for around five days. In those five days, 10 lakh kilogrammes of firecrackers are used per day."
The apex court was left wondering when it was informed by one of the counsel that around 50 lakh kgs of firecrackers were lying in stock of the suppliers and distributors in the NCR and around one lakh kgs was in stock in Delhi alone.
The bench also wanted to know from the government what steps it has taken so far on banning Chinese firecrackers when the counsel for the domestic manufacturers alleged that there was "no quality control" on these foreign items.
The bench asked the government after the counsel for manufacturers claimed that the firecrackers imported from China were "much cheaper", but a lot of banned materials were used in them and there was no quality control.
"What have you (Centre) done about banning Chinese firecrackers," the bench asked Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand who said she would take instructions on the issue and get back to the court.
The apex court had in November last year directed the government to suspend all licences permitting the wholesale and retail sale of fireworks within the NCR and said that suspension would be in force till further orders.
It had also directed that no such licences shall be granted or renewed till further orders.
During the arguments today, the manufacturers said that the rise in air pollution in the Delhi-NCR during the Diwali season was due to several reasons, including crop burning in neighbouring states, and not entirely due to the firecrackers.
Delhi Police told the court that in 2016, they had given 968 temporary licences to sell firecrackers out of a total of 1,068 applications.
It said last year, these licences were given for a period of 24 days during the festive seasons of Dussehra and Diwali.
It, however, said the apex court could consider the issue of curtailing the period as well as limiting the number of temporary licences.
The police also gave district-wise details of the number of temporary licences given last year including 101 licences given in the north-east, 49 in south and 75 in south-east districts here.
"This court can rationalise it and if needed, reduce the number of licences. The time period can further be curtailed," the counsel representing the police said.
He also said that one can keep 600 kgs of firecrackers with a temporary licence, while in case of a permanent licence, one can store the fireworks between 600 kgs and 1,500 kgs at a time.
Meanwhile, the counsel appearing for the manufacturers told the court that there were 435 and 175 permanent licences in NCR and Delhi respectively.
He said permanent licences are given by the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) which also have a strict process of inspection and a regulatory mechanism was in place.
"Firecracker is one of the factor for pollution but it cannot be the sole factor. The increase in pollution during winters is also due to crop burning," the counsel said.
The bench was also told by one of the parties that the major concern was regarding enforcement of the directions, as crackers were being burst even after 10 PM despite apex court order.
"Sikkim has prohibited firecrackers. In China, the use of firecrackers is regulated. When the pollution level rises in China, government bans its use there," the lawyer said.
The Delhi government told the bench that they have asked the schools to educate students about the harmful effects and toxic materials emitted by the use of firecrackers.
The apex court was hearing arguments in a matter related to pollution from firecrackers in the Delhi-NCR region.
It had earlier expressed concern over air pollution in Delhi-NCR, especially from crackers during the festive season of Diwali and Dussehra, and said the authorities have to take steps to regulate firecracker industries.
The apex court had earlier refused to modify its order banning the sale and stockpiling of firecrackers in Delhi and the NCR. It had refused to revoke the suspension of licences of traders dealing in such explosive material.
It had also directed the Central Pollution Control Board to prepare an inventory of existing firecrackers with the traders and suggest measures for their disposal.