As violations of the Supreme Court-imposed restrictions on the use and sale of firecrackers were reported across states during Diwali, questions cropped up, on November 8, 2018, over implementing the ban in a short period but legal experts said law enforcement agencies must be made accountable, for the breaches that can hurt the ambitious efforts to combat pollution. The experts also said the ban is not unimplementable.
In Delhi, a thick haze engulfed the national capital as it recorded its worst air quality of the year, on the morning after Diwali, as the pollution level entered the ‘severe-plus emergency’ category or ten times the permissible limit due to rampant bursting of toxic firecrackers, in gross violation of a Supreme Court order, authorities said.
Experts, both legal and environmental, said although sounds of cracker bursting were heard in breach of the two-hour time limit between 8 PM to 10 PM on Diwali (November 7, 2018), they said the orders were in the right direction for gradual implementation and would set the tone for policy making on the issue of controlling pollution.
The experts said the law enforcement agencies have to be made accountable, for the non-compliance of the two-hour-long window granted by the apex court, on October 23, 2018, for bursting of the less polluting green crackers.
Senior advocates Rakesh Dwivedi, KTS Tulsi, Rajeev Dhavan, Ajit Sinha and environmentalist and lawyer MC Mehta, advocates Gopal Sankaranarayanan, Aprajita Singh and environmentalist Anumita Roy Chowdhury, were unanimous in their view that the apex court has come out with implementable orders and now, it is for the authorities and the citizens to take it forward.
There have been criticism from some quarters that it was not practical to implement the order, in this festive season. The experts said the apex court direction would eventually lead to the ending of manufacture of polluting crackers and that the next Diwali will be less polluting with the only green crackers, which have low emission of light, sound and harmful chemicals entering the market.
Sankaranarayanan, who has been arguing for the ban of fire crackers, said the order has been largely implemented, barring the national capital where, he alleged the Delhi police failed.
“Of course, the order has been implemented. The time limit (fixed by the Supreme Court) was largely followed. In Delhi, police decided not to implement it. It is the fault of the commissioner of police. Only the commissioner of police disobeyed it,” he said, citing the order, which stated that the SHOs of concerned police stations would be made accountable for the violations, if any.
Singh, who has been assisting the apex court as an amicus curiae in the air pollution matters, said even if the ‘positive’ order was not implemented in totality, it was a ‘huge step’. Dwivedi said authorities will be in a better position next time, to prevent bursting of crackers beyond the permissible time limit. His views were shared by Sinha and Dhavan, who said the apex court order ‘did succeed in many areas’ and that greater awareness among citizens, would lead to more compliance. “The Supreme Court’s order could not have been obeyed at the time of festival but it did succeed in many areas. Such magnum orders can only be treated as messages of restraint,” Dhavan said.
Environmentalist Mehta said the bursting of crackers in Delhi was not due to the failure of the apex court directions but was the ‘gross failure of the law implementing agencies’, as they were not serious in their approach.
Roy Chowdhury, who is executive director at the Centre for Science and Environment and assisting the top court in various pollution-related matters, said laws and rules with regard to crackers are there but it is time for the citizens to be upfront towards their responsibility.
Dwivedi hailed the top court’s judgement, terming it as an order in the right direction and said, “The only question is that there will be difficulties and unless we cooperate and support the order, it can’t be implemented fully.
“But it goes a long way to create consciousness among the people, regarding pollution caused by bursting of crackers. All this will take time and we should go on pushing the idea, because people gradually change themselves. That’s the most difficult task, to change the people,” the senior lawyer said.
He said the court stepped in, as the ‘government was doing nothing’ and opined that the apex court could have come out with more clear directions on issues like green crackers. The lawyer also rued the fact that the directions came at the eleventh hour and there was lack of clarity and hoped that from the next time, it will be clearer to the police and the administration in complying with the orders.
Dhavan said when the matter was with justice MB Lokur, he pioneered the idea that obnoxious substances should not be used, which led to the concept of green crackers and now the court and authorities should turn to the manufacturers, to supply green crackers that might resolve the problem. Sinha, a former high court judge, said it cannot be said that the apex court order was not implemented and the problem is that the sudden bringing about of such a direction and then, reaching out to each and every person, is a tedious task which takes time.