As yet another Diwali passes by, no respite is at the horizon for the smog-filled Delhi NCR. There is poison in the air. This has happened despite a cracker ban imposed by the Supreme Court of India vide the decision in Arjun Gopal v. Union of India in 2018. Crackers went off as if this was the last Diwali that people would celebrate. In the capital and the areas around, the air quality was among the poorest in the world.
Examining the judgment and its implementation, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy released ‘Hari Phuljhari: A Documentary on the Firecrackers Ban in Delhi’, a documentary on the eve of Diwali.
In 2016, three parents had filed a Public Interest Litigation on behalf of their toddlers’ right to a healthy environment. The petition sought relief against crop burning, the use of firecrackers during the festival season, and any other such incidents that added to the already prevalent problem of air pollution in the country.
The petitioners sought restriction of firework licenses and awareness on low hazard fireworks. The court also ordered at that time that fireworks can be used from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. The police authorities were made to ensure that no such activity of smuggling fireworks takes place and that no fireworks are being burst in silence zones. The government and teachers were asked to generate awareness about the responsible use of fireworks.
However, as the documentary shows, the Supreme Court decision received mixed reactions.
The documentary explores the implementation of the Court’s order in two aspects mainly the use of fireworks, and the manufacturing of firecrackers after two years since the judgement was pronounced.
On one hand, the decision was hailed for protecting the individual’s right to a clean and healthy environment, while on the other hand people contested their right to occupation, livelihood and freedom of religion.
Many of those interviewed contested their right to celebrate Diwali.
The documentary notes an Economic Times study found that, despite the firecracker ban, over 5 million kg of Fireworks were burnt in Delhi on Diwali in 2018. Some interviewees wondered if a complete ban throughout the country would help better in tackling the problem of air pollution.
The court also ordered the use of ‘green crackers’. According to India Today, firework manufacturers had to suspend operations for over four months which landed them an 800 crore debt and further impacted ten lakh labourers employed in the industry.
Saurabh Bhasin, the petitioner in the 2018 case, says that a ‘green cracker’ is still a firecracker contributing towards the already deteriorating air quality. He argued that it was the state’s responsibility to help educate people regarding the long term ill-effects of air pollution on the quality of life.
A. Vijay Kumar, a journalist with Pyro India News, said that inadequacies were found in the conducting of a demo by NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute ) regarding the production of green crackers in Sivakasi.
Dr. Arvind Kumar of Sri Ganga Ram Hospital, who had filed an affidavit in the case, said that the use of firecrackers could no longer be looked at from a “religious or political angle but by a pure health angle”. He remarked on how pollution had become a ‘way of life’ as people are unaware of what clean air even feels like.
At the screening of the documentary, retired Supreme Court judge Madan Lokur said, “The problem of air pollution needs to be looked at from a broader perspective as it is a problem of health and education, and needs to be solved collectively by the society as a whole, as it affects everyone equally and can be solved only through strong political will.”
In a gripping narrative, the documentary shows that in order to tackle the problem of air pollution, the whole nation had to stand together and work collectively by becoming more conscious about their daily activities. Everyone has an individual responsibility to understand the gravity of air pollution and its effects on the more vulnerable portion of the society such as children and the elderly.
It is not merely the responsibility of the court or the government to deal with the vexed problem of air pollution. Each one of us needs to contribute our bit.
(Sukhman Sandhu is a student at the Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab. She is presently an intern with The Leaflet.)