The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Centre to indicate within two weeks the regulatory mechanism in place for ensuring quality control of green fireworks after the government sought the top court’s approval for its “new and improved” formulation of crackers.
Hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to reduce harmful effects caused by crackers, a bench of justices AS Bopanna and MM Sundresh told the Centre that before granting any approval, it wished to know how the government proposed to regulate the manufacture of these crackers and take steps for monitoring and implementing the prescribed formulation and quality.
Granting time till September 13, the bench said, “We would like the Centre to indicate the protocol to implement restrictions or regulations with regard to sale of green crackers.”
Additional solicitor general (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the ministry of environment, forests and climate change (MoEFCC) informed the court that the regulatory mechanism has been provided in the earlier affidavits filed by the Centre. However, she agreed to compile the necessary information by the next date of hearing.
Green crackers are low-emission fireworks permitted by the Supreme Court for celebrations to a moderate degree during festivals, relaxing the ‘complete ban’ on fireworks previously imposed in 2018. These green crackers are produced with less harmful raw materials, in accordance with instructions issued by the top court, and are made in a way that suppresses the dust when they are burnt – thus reducing emissions.
Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, the Centre filed an affidavit on August 24 which said, “With the efforts of the MoEFCC, an unregulated industry is now being transformed to a law-abiding industry.”
The affidavit informed the court about the research and development conducted in this field following the court’s October 23, 2018 judgment banning the sale and production of crackers in Delhi-NCR, and regulating their use across the country. The affidavit reproduced an earlier status report of the of August 7, 2019 suggesting various formulations on green/improved crackers that the ministry has come up with along with concerned departments – Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization (PESO) and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
The TANFAMA, an association representing 180 fireworks manufacturers from Tamil Nadu, told the court that it wants approval to go ahead with the production of formulations suggested by the Centre. Tamil Nadu is the hub of the fireworks trade in India.
The manufacturers through their lawyers – senior advocates Shyam Divan and Guru Krishna Kumar — told the court that the improved fireworks developed by CSIR-NEERI contains reduced quantities of barium nitrate resulting in 30% reduced emission of particulate matter. Kumar argued that due to the ban, the industry stands frozen even as imported firecrackers flood markets.
While imposing the ban, the court had sought to curb use of crackers containing barium and barium salts, as on ignition, they release poisonous gas leading to respiratory problems.
In the past, the court had stressed on the need to have improved fireworks.
The October 2018 judgment which banned traditional crackers permitted use of improved (with reduced emission) and green crackers. A direction was also given to Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization (PESO) to ensure that fireworks be tested and checked for presence of banned chemicals such as lithium, arsenic, antimony, lead and mercury, besides barium.
Senior advocate Gopal Shankarnaraynan appearing for the petitioner Arjun Gopal and others, said that the court’s directions are yet to be complied as the improved crackers also contain barium salts. He urged the court to have a strict regulatory mechanism in place to ensure violations are kept under check and there is no compromise with quality control in rolling out sale of green crackers.