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3 Delhi babies' anti-fireworks case is strong (helped by lawyer fathers Gopal Sanks, Amit Bhandari, Trilegal Bhasin) [READ PETITION]

Would kids still love fireworks if they knew what they do to their lungs?
Would kids still love fireworks if they knew what they do to their lungs?

In Arjun Gopal vs UOI filed in the Supreme Court, the three infants, all residents of Delhi, have sought the immediate intervention of Supreme Court against the inevitable and upcoming widespread use of firecrackers and fireworks and other products of the same classification, especially during the festivals of Dussehra and Diwali. The Supreme Court, their petition says, is bound under Article 32 to take interim steps in effectuating the people’s right to clean, healthy and breathable air under Article 21.

The petitioners Arjun Gopal, Aarav Bhandari and Zoya Rao Bhasin filed through their fathers and ‘next friends’ Supreme Court advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, advocate Amit Bhandari, who works with senior counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi, and Trilegal partner Saurabh Bhasin respectively.

The petition cites four precedents for such intervention by the Supreme Court. In MC Mehta vs Union of India, (1996), it directed relocation of noxious and polluting industries. In MC Mehta (Delhi vehicular pollution-1998), it laid down a time frame for conversion of commercial diesel vehicles to CNG and several other measures. In MC Mehta (1998), it directed closing down of brick kilns and in MC Mehta (2004), it directed the National Highways Authority of India to be the nodal agency to carry out completion of the construction of bypasses and expressways.

In justification of its pleas, the petition says firecrackers use charcoal, sulphur and potassium nitrate with aluminium instead of or in addition to charcoal in order to brighten the explosion and that they generate a variety of air pollutants, like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, in addition to aerosols or particular matter that worsens lung conditions like asthma.

In anticipation of defence under right to practice and profess religion under Article 25, the petition acknowledges that while it guarantees right to celebrate festivals with all fervor and enthusiasm, it restricts such celebration on grounds of public order, morality and health. The historic and beautiful city of Delhi is slowly being poisoned with the worst quality of air that is being consumed daily by the people of Delhi, and the needless and harmful fad of celebrating festivals with firecrackers is the last nail in the coffin, it says.

Relying on Supreme Court’s judgment in MC Mehta vs Kamal Nath (1997), the petition says it is amply clear that even though the State and Central Governments are protectors of our natural resources, they are taking no effective steps to curb the growing menace of air pollution.

The petition says that lighting fireworks during Diwali is a modern phenomenon, as the most common and popular way to celebrate was by lighting diyas or eathern lamps which used biodegradable ingredients such as ‘ghee’ and cotton to have a slow burning candle effect. Due to increase in population and increase in demand for such fireworks, they not only became more widespread in use around Diwali but also more dangerous. Apart from the risk of death or grievous injury, it also now poses a silent threat to life around festival time, it says.

This needless new gimmick in the name of celebration is posing a risk not only to us but our children and generations of Indians yet to be born; apart from air pollution, the harmful effects through noise pollution due to fireworks is also well documented and particularly in the development of the children, the petition avers.

The petition traces the establishment of first organized factory of the fireworks industry at Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu to 1940. In 2001, the number of factories in Sivakasi region for manufacture of fireworks and matches increased to more than 450.

In In Re Noise Pollution, the Supreme Court in 2005 laid down directions for use of fireworks to control their impact on noise pollution and held that uncontrolled use of firecrackers has a harmful impact on the environment through noise and air pollution. In this case, Supreme Court passed orders restricting use of fireworks during only a specific time period from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and changed the basis of evaluating fireworks from noise level to chemical composition. The court also acknowledged how fireworks are a needless air and noise pollutant and its use must be restricted. The court at that point did not impose total ban as the lis concerned only noise pollution. Now, with alarming reports being cited, the time has come to completely ban the use of firecrackers for Diwali due to the irreparable and needless damage it would cause to an already damaged ecology, the petition pleads.

The petition also relies on the reply given by Union Environment minister in the Rajya Sabha in 2014 in which he claimed that 80 people die every day due to air pollution.

In 2014, the WHO study of 1600 cities across 91 countries ranked New Delhi as the worst city in the world in terms of ambient air quality calculated in terms of amount of particulate matter in the air. The petition also cites the report that the Delhi air, apart from having two of the worst pollutants, that is, PM10 and PM 2.5 in high levels, has the worst type of suspended particulate matter (PM1) in large quantities, and that these are the primary source of cardiovascular diseases since they can easily enter the blood stream.

In a startling disclosure, the petition reveals that successive Delhi Governments in the past seven years have collected close to Rs 385 crores for pollution control through a 0.25 paise environment cess, yet 87 per cent of those funds remain unutilized. It also cites a joint study by the Central Pollution Control Board with the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute which focused on the effects of air pollution in causing cancer in children.

The PIL petitioners are Arjun Gopal who is aged 6 months, Aarav Bhandari (6 months) and Zoya Rao Bhasin (14 months). Apart from UOI (Respondent 1) , CPCB(R-2), Delhi Pollution Control Committee, (R-3) and Delhi Police Licensing Unit (R-4) have been listed as respondents. They filed their petitions through their fathers who act as their next friends/legal guardians.

The petition makes several prayers, namely, pass a writ of mandamus or any other appropriate writ, order or direction to ban the use in any form, of firecrackers, sparklers and minor explosives in any form, for use during festivals; direct the respondents to ensure that seasonal crop burning is halted in favour of less harmful alternatives, to take stringent action against those who dump dust, malba and other pollutants without following due regulations and permissions, the failure of which will entail severe penalties, to immediately bring Bharat-V or better emission norms into operation uniformly across the country, to constitute an independent permanent body tasked with spreading awareness and maintain compliance of this court’s orders, to widely publicise the steps being actively taken, in reducing pollution in Delhi, especially pollution caused by particulate matter of different sizes, appoint an expert committee consisting of key stakeholders from the legal ecosystem to review the working of the efforts to curb environmental degradation caused by ambient air pollution and suggest institutional reforms.

In their application for interim stay, the infants have argued that they are the most vulnerable category when it comes to air pollution, especially from suspended particles and poisonous toxics. They are foremost prone to lung disease, asthma, coughing, bronchitis, retarded nervous system development and cognitive impairment. The imminent advent of festivals involving widespread fireworks are a clear and present danger to the health of the applicants and other children.

Seeking an ad-interim stay of the grant of firework licenses by , the Respondent No.4, the petition points out that the only restrictions imposed to procure a temporary license for sale of the noxious goods is under the Explosive Rules, 2008, which make no consideration for air pollution issues. The balance of convenience is clearly in favour of the applicants who have a right to health under Article 21, the petition has claimed.

The ill-effects on the lungs and the central nervous systems of the applicants will be irreversible as against the ephemeral and superficial joy that obtains when a firecracker is employed. Therefore, the petition has sought the stay of the grant of temporary fireworks/firecrackers licences by the respondent no.4, stay the sale by any individual of any fireworks/firecrackers pending the outcome of the present petition and pass such other and further orders as may be deemed fit by the court. These are considered very compelling arguments, which are likely to persuade the court.

The hearing of the petition at the admission stage will be watched with considerable interest.

Read a writ by 3 babies against Fireworks (PDF)

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