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India

Indian court eases ban on firecrackers before Hindu festival despite soaring pollution levels

  • Firecrackers set off for the Hindu festival of lights add to the toxic mix created by farmers burning crop stubble, diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and industrial emissions
  • The World Health Organisation in May listed 14 Indian cities, including Delhi, in the world’s top 15 with the dirtiest air
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2018, 2:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2018, 2:59pm

India’s top court on Tuesday eased a ban on fireworks for a major Hindu festival despite air pollution in New Delhi and other cities again reaching danger levels.

The Supreme Court, which last year banned firecrackers for the Diwali festival, rejected a new call for a ban in the capital amid growing concern over pollution.

Firecrackers set off for the Hindu festival of lights add to the toxic mix created by farmers burning crop stubble, diesel engines, coal-fired power plants and industrial emissions.

The World Health Organisation in May listed 14 Indian cities, including Delhi, in the world’s top 15 with the dirtiest air.

Ahead of Diwali on November 7, the Supreme Court ordered that only reduced smoke fireworks – so-called “green firecrackers” – could be sold and that this must be through licensed traders. No fireworks can be sold online, it said.

The court has also set a two-hour window from 8pm to 10pm for the lighting of crackers on Diwali.

“It needs to be enforced strictly,” Gopal Sankarnarayan, a lawyer for the petitioners told NDTV television.

Your one decision to allow sale and use of firecrackers ... will kill toddlers, children and elderly
Vimlendu Jha, environmentalist

Last year, the Supreme Court suspended the licences of all firecracker sellers in Delhi for one month because of the pollution crisis which leaves the Indian capital’s 20 million residents gasping for clean air during the winter months. However, many ignored the ban and bought crackers illegally or brought out old stocks.

Every winter, air pollution in Delhi soars as cooler air traps harmful particles from the various emissions.

Smog has climbed in recent weeks as temperatures have fallen and smoke from burning wheat fields in neighbouring states has reached the capital, mingling with urban pollutants.

Environmentalist Vimlendu Jha said there was no such thing as an environmentally safe firework and blasted the court decision as others raised concerns about how the court orders will be implemented.

“Your one decision to allow sale and use of firecrackers in current times, while half of our country turns into a gas chamber, will kill toddlers, children and elderly,” Jha said in a Tweet.

New Delhi accounts for nearly half of India’s demand for firecrackers although Diwali is celebrated across the country.

“This decision should have come earlier because manufacturers are ready with all kinds of firecrackers and it will be very hard to stop them,” said Sunil Dahiya, a campaigner with Greenpeace.

Additional reporting by Reuters