Ahead of Diwali, Supreme Court verdict to ban firecrackers in the Delhi-NCR is like surgical strike on the traders as the festival of light was mere a fortnight away
The Supreme Court last fortnight banned the sale of firecrackers in the Delhi-National Capital Region during the upcoming festive season of Diwali, according to several media reports. The ban on firecrackers will apply till November 1, 2017. However, a ban on bursting crackers, however, was not made explicit in the verdict. Those who have purchased firecrackers can still burst them on Diwali.
“People who had already purchased crackers will be able to burst them. Hopefully they won’t do that,” said Haripriya Padmanabhan, Lawyer who fought the case for the safety of environment. On 6 October, a bench headed by Justice AK Sikri reserved its order on a plea seeking restoration of the apex court’s 2016 order banning the sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR.
The top court, through its 11 November, 2016 order, suspended all licenses, which “permit sale of fireworks, wholesale and retail within the territory of NCR”.
Later, on 12 September, the apex court had temporarily lifted its earlier order and permitted sale of firecrackers. During the hearing on the plea seeking restoration of last year’s order, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) had told the bench that they “support” the application.
Advocate Gopal Shankarnarayanan, appearing for petitioner Arjun Gopal, had contended before the court that ban on use of firecrackers should be restored as the NCR had witnessed a huge rise in air pollution during and after Diwali in 2016. He had said that rise in air pollution during last Diwali was because of several reasons, including the extensive use of firecrackers.
The counsel, appearing for the permanent licencees selling crackers, had opposed the plea, and said the 12 September order temporarily lifting the ban was “well-reasoned” and passed after hearing all the parties, including the CPCB. He had argued that all aspects raised by the petitioner now were considered by the apex court while passing the order in September and though firecrackers impacted air quality, it was “not the greatest cause of particulate matter 2.5”.
“It’s unfair and is infringement of our fundamental rights,” firecracker traders have voiced in unison, responding to the Supreme Court’s order to impose a temporary ban on the sale of crackers in Delhi and NCR. The court has placed a ban on sale of crackers in Delhi-NCR till 31 October.
Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), an umbrella of 40,000 trade bodies and over six crore traders across the country, has taken strong exception to the ban ahead of the Diwali festival. However, from traders point of view, the verdict hasn’t gone down well as it would hit them more than the manufacturers.
“Supreme Court’s concern for environment protection is appreciable, but putting a sudden ban on the sale of crackers in Delhi-NCR — which is a centuries’ old legitimate business protected under Constitution of India under Right to Work-is unfair and also against India’s festival culture,” CAIT secretary general, Praveen Khandelwal told Dayafter bureau.
Why traders see it as ‘unfair’?
The traders who are on the same page with author Chetan Bhagat, who tweeted, “SC bans fireworks on Diwali? A full ban? What’s Diwali for children without crackers?” Traders in Delhi have multiple reasons to raise the red flag against the SC ban and calling the order unfair.
Environment continues to be unsafe – ban is on sale of crackers and not on its burning: Questioning the ban, the traders said that if there is no ban on bursting of crackers, how would the environment be protected? It’s the unchecked burning of fireworks that leads to smog immediately after Diwali and affects people, especially children causing serious respiratory disorder.
Doors open for smuggling of illegal crackers: As there’s no ban on burning of crackers, people will buy these from adjoining states. “This will give rise to smuggling of crackers from adjoining states to Delhi. It’ll be sold illegally at a much higher price. Illegally procured crackers are unsafe too,” said Devraj Baweja, president, Delhi Vyapari Mahasangh.
Heavy financial loss to Delhi-NCR traders and to government: According to CAIT, crackers estimated at Rs 400-Rs 500 crore have been procured by firecracker sellers in Delhi and NCR through legal licensing for Diwali. “What will happen to the money that has got blocked due to the ban? Nearly Rs 500 crore worth crackers have already been stocked by the traders. Besides, the traders facing financial loss, the government too shall lose revenue due to smuggled crackers,” said Baweja.
Entire supply chain will have to face the brunt: Traders have claimed that due to the ban the entire supply chain – from manufacturers to the last point retailer shall face financial loss. “Livelihood of crores of people– right from a daily wager to a retailer depends on this firework and crackers business. Due to this sudden ban, just 10 days ahead of Diwali, the entire supply chain will face financial crisis,” Khandelwal remarked.
Ban is against India’s cultural ethos: Echoing a similar sentiment with that of Chetan Bhagat, the traders said bursting of crackers in Diwali is based on India’s cultural ethos. “It symbolizes happiness of people on return of Lord Ram at Ayodhya and welcoming Goddess Lakshmi. Diwali is celebrated across the country in different forms where cracking of fireworks plays an integral part and is common all over. It’s not just Diwali, crackers are burnt to celebrate success in sports as well. This ban questions whether we should follow our culture or not,” a Sadar Bazar-based fireworks trader remarked.
Meanwhile, the CAIT has urged the government to file a review with the Supreme Court.
“We’ve urged the government to rise to the occasion and file a review in Supreme Court. We have due respect for the apex court and are duty bound to obey its orders, but it will be beneficial for the entire trading community if the order is reviewed at least for this Diwali. Crackers are not the only source of air pollution in the country. Before putting a blanket ban, there is a need for a comprehensive policy. If a ban is at all needed on burning of crackers, it should be done from next year, so as to avoid a huge financial loss,” added Khandelwal.
The apex court in 2016 had ordered the suspension of all licenses permitting the sale of fireworks – wholesale and retail within the NCR.
“However, later it was relaxed and crackers were sold last year. Hardly, ten days are left for the festival and this sudden ban on sale will prove detrimental to festival business. An urgent review is needed,” added Baweja, who belongs to Sadar Bazar in New Delhi- a major hub of fireworks.