‘Right To Life Above Right To Employment’: SC On Firecracker Ban

The Supreme Court on Tuesday told firecracker manufacturers that the right to life of innocent citizens was more precious than the right to employment of workers who have been out of job following the 2018 court-imposed ban on the manufacture and sale of traditional firecrackers.

The court was hearing a clutch of petitions filed by manufacturers and citizens, the former asking for relaxations citing worker rights and the latter seeking tighter implementation of the ban citing flagrant violations.

Appearing for manufacturers, senior ANS Nadkarni urged the apex court to issue directions to the Centre to approve improved crackers and green crackers (with reduced emissions) ahead of Diwali as livelihoods of lakhs of people who work in the industry are at stake.

But the bench of justices MR Shah and AS Bopanna was in no mood to consider it. “Under the guise of right to employment we cannot allow a few to play with the lives of citizens. We have to strike a balance between the right to employment and right to life of citizens. But our prime focus is to protect the right to life of innocent citizens who suffer due to the use of firecrackers,” the court said.

The court noted that despite an express ban on the manufacture and sale of joined firecrackers or laaris, they are still used in all festivals, religious processions and election victory marches. “…time has come that we must fix responsibility and liability,” the court said.

The bench asked Nadkarni why these laaris are still available when their production was banned in 2018. In response, the senior counsel said that the production of big rolls of laaris has stopped.

“People are buying small crackers and joining them. They should know this cannot be done,” Nadkarni said.

“The problem is implementation,” the bench rued, adding, “We want that our orders must be implemented in true spirit…”

Three contempt petitions were also filed by senior advocate Gopal Shankarnaraynan in which he pointed out that the manufacturers have been resorting to novel ways to override the court’s directions. “Initially they delivered goods online even when the October 2018 order specifically banned e-commerce websites from accepting or effecting online sale of firecrackers,” he said, adding that some traditional crackers with prohibited chemical compositions were being sold under the label of green crackers.

The 2018 judgment had directed the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), a government establishment, to review the chemical composition of fireworks.

Shankarnaraynan told the court that the government has ignored PESO and come out with proposals by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute for alternative crackers that still contain most of the salts banned by the court order.

Additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Centre and PESO, contested the petitioner’s claim and said the Centre had filed its response in October 2020 when some of the violations were shown to court by Shankarnaraynan in March that year and the top court had ordered a probe by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the use of toxic chemicals in green crackers.

The CBI filed its report in a sealed cover which the court is yet to open. When Nadkarni sought a copy of the report but the court refused.

The court will continue hearing the case on Wednesday.

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