CSIS

Centre for South Indian Studies

Diwali Pollution

Download the paper on Diwali pollution

Preface

Several key questions with respect to Crackers, Diwali and Pollution seemed perplexing and rather surprisingly, unanswered. For instance, questions like:

  1. Do Crackers cause Pollution?
  2. If they do then what is the extent?
  3. Does the extent of pollution, warrant a complete and All India ban?

The search for answers to the above revealed several surprising, if not shocking, facts and details. The author felt it important to document these findings and bring them into larger public domain. Hence, this write-up.

The write-up was written, as an article series of 5 distinct parts for wider readership. This document is an amalgamation of the five parts with minimal modifications, where required for the sake of congruity and coherence.

Reference Documents

The base documents were the judgments delivered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the “Arjun Gopal Vs Union of India,” case – which ultimately led to the ban on fireworks. The next set of documents were all the research reports referred to in the judgment. Additional readings, wherever required and referred to, are given in the footnotes.

Abstract

The search for answers to the three key questions listed above led to more questions than answers. For instance:

  • How did a case related to “Right to Clean Air” in Delhi, become a case focussed exclusively on fireworks, as if fireworks are the only impediment to clean air in Delhi?
  • How did this case related to pollution just in Delhi, lead to the ban of crackers across India?
  • How do other Countries handle the problem of pollution form crackers and how many of them ban crackers?  

Only after answering these supplementary questions, could the answers to the three principal questions be found. The answers found are astonishing, to say the least. Readers are advised to read the complete document for a comprehensive idea. However, for the sake of giving an insight into what’s in store in the following pages, brief summation of the findings is given below:

Key Findings

  1. Crackers do cause pollution to the extent of adding PM (Particulate Matter) to the air but they add no “poison to the air” as many in media report. (CPCB has found the levels of major harmful gases like SO2,NO2 and COto be “within limits” on Diwali).
  2. While the extent of increase in PM during Diwali was documented, the percentage contribution of fireworks to the PM – which should have been the most important metric of investigation – was neither documented nor asked for.
  3. A study conducted by IIT Kanpur, which did a chemical analysis to identify the source of all PM, and also captured the percentage contribution of each source, did not even list fireworks as a contributor of any significance.
  4. However, this definitive a report by IIT showing almost negligible impact of fireworks on pollution was dismissed as a report which, perhaps, was not successful in capturing the effect of crackers on pollution!
  5. Hence, “Precautionary Principle” (PP) was invoked to make up for the lack of definitive evidence in case – which too on closer analysis is found to be faulty and questionable.
  6. A Supreme Court Committee formed to look into the effect of pollution, during Diwali, on human health after a comprehensive study- found no adverse effect on human health.
  7. The report of this Committee, however, was misinterpreted as one which reported great damage to health due to the misunderstanding of the concept of “Statistical Significance.”
  8. The case against fireworks on count of pollution – thus falls flat on its face, with no merit in it.
  9. This lack of merit comes as no surprise when one looks at the international scene, wherein hardly a country that has completely banned fireworks can be found.
  10. Most surprising of all – far from a ban – countries like England, which have some of the most stringent environmental laws in the world, are found to be giving additional concessions to burst crackers on festivals like Diwali!

You may find the above conclusions to be unbelievable, if not impossible. Read on to discover the truth yourself.

Introduction

Crackers, especially those burst around Diwali, and the extent of pollution caused by them, have become subjects of an intense debate in the last few years. Given the amount of analysis and dissection already done on the subject, including that done in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, it is rather surprising to note that several key issues have not yet been brought to the fore in public discourse.

This write up brings several of these, hitherto untouched issues to light and also provides answers to the questions raised – all backed with data, facts and logic. For the sake of better understanding the write-up is divided into six parts – each of which covers a certain aspect of the issue in detail. These six parts are as under:

  1. How a case against air pollution in NCR Delhi transformed into a case obsessed with banning crackers across India?
  2. Do crackers cause pollution? What the data tells us. Analysis of 5-year data for Delhi.
  3. Analysis of Supreme Court’s judgment and issues arising from it.
  4. Analysis of “Precautionary Principle” – a key justification given for banning crackers.
  5. How other nations handle fireworks?

A. How did a case against air pollution in Delhi, end up banning crackers across India?

To understand the above, let’s first look at the timeline of the case in Supreme Court.  See table given below:

S. No Date Details
1 05.10.2015 PIL registered for addressing the causes of air pollution in Delhi.
2 16.10.2015 Court orders government to start a campaign to educate people about “ill effects of fireworks” and asks all teachers “to tell students to not buy and use fireworks.”
3 11.11.2016 Sale of all fireworks (in Delhi) and all licenses issued to shops selling fireworks suspended after Delhi saw unprecedented levels of air pollution.
4 12.09.2017 Judgment terms suspension of licenses of all shops selling fireworks as “too radical” and revokes suspension. But reduces number of licenses by 50%.
5 09.10.2017 Another bench of the Supreme Court reverses the earlier order of 12.09.2017  and again bans sale of fireworks in Delhi, just a few days before Diwali.
The same bench lifts the ban, yet again, from 1.11.2017 after Diwali is over.
6 23.10.2018 Manufacture and sale of all fireworks other than “Green Crackers” banned across India. Bursting of “Green Crackers” to be allowed only for two hours between 8 PM & 10 PM on the day of Diwali.
7 03.03.2020 Petitioners complain that manufacturers are violating “Green Cracker” norms. Court Orders CBI Enquiry. Report and next hearing awaited.

Few Points worth noting from the above summary and other details of the judgments are:

  1. While the petition ostensibly was for addressing “causes of Air Pollution,” the petitioners and the Hon’ble Supreme Court both seem to have focussed almost exclusively on regulating fireworks.
  2. The focus on banning fireworks is such that no other cause of “Air Pollution” seems to have even been discussed (to any significant extent), investigated or acted upon as a part of the Court proceedings in this case.
  3. The Court from the very beginning seems to have been inclined against fireworks as can be inferred from the order of 16.10.2015 (#2 above Table) wherein it ordered the govt to give wide-publicity to the “ill-effects of fireworks” even as the hearing of the case had just begun and no substantive or scientific data was made available to show / prove “ill-effects.”
  4. The Court has been led to believe that there is a prevailing “national consensus” in the country in favour of banning use of fireworks for Diwali across India.
  5. The final nail, however, in the opinion of the author, seems to have been driven by the submissions made by the Ministry of Environments, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), which concurred with the prevailing ‘consensus’ and proposed the use of “Green Crackers” as a means of “reducing pollution.”
  6. The last judgment pronounced by the Hon’ble Supreme Court on 23.10.2018 is largely an acceptance of the recommendations given by MoEFCC.

It would thus seem like the petitioners in the case have used the larger cause of mitigating “air pollution” in Delhi as a mere cloak to cover the real intent of getting fireworks banned across India. What their reasons are for wanting such a ban, what are their motivations and how funds were arranged to afford top most lawyers like Abhishek M. Singhvi, Kapil Sibal and K.K. Venugopal (he was not the attorney general of India then) are subjects of speculation in which the author would not like to indulge.

That said, another important fact borne out form the points listed above is that the Government of India, through MoEFCC, seems to have supported the interventions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in this case. It may seem a bit difficult to digest for many, especially with BJP in power for the duration of this case, but the fact remains that restrictions being placed on the bursting crackers at the time of Diwali are not because of an unwarranted intrusion by the judiciary into the domain of the executive but rather because of an agreement between both the judiciary and the government.

Whether the people of the country are in agreement with their judiciary and government or not is different matter all-together.

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B. Do Crackers cause Pollution? What the data and reports say.

Whether the crackers cause pollution or not, and if they do, then what is the extent of it – is the crux of the case against crackers and the most contentious issue in public debates.

We shall take a two-pronged approach to this. First, we shall give details of the data presented before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Then we shall present an analysis of five years data for Delhi which is publicly available through CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) portal – and trust the readers to draw their own conclusions.

The following data sources have been relied upon by the Supreme Court to reach its conclusions:

  1. An NGT (National Green Tribunal) order passed on 10.11.2016 on causes of pollution in Delhi.
  2. A report submitted by IIT Kanpur in January 2016 titled “Comprehensive Study on Air Pollution and Green House Gases in Delhi” submitted to govt. of NCT Delhi and DPCC (Delhi Pollution Control Committee).
  3. Affidavits and Reports filed by CPCB
  4. Report of Supreme Court appointed Committee headed by chairperson of CPCB.
  5. Affidavit of one Dr. Arvind Kumar filed on August 14, 2018
  6. Affidavit of an animal rights activist, Gauri Maulekhi.
  7. News reports; and
  8. Direct experience of the Hon’ble judges with Delhi air.

Summarised below are the major findings of the above

C. Causes for pollution in Delhi as listed by NGT

Given below is an extract of a table from para 10 from SC judgment of 12.09.2017

  • As can be seen – Fireworks is not even mentioned as a cause in this.
  1. Causes of Pollution as given by IIT Kanpur

Bursting of Fireworks does not find a mention as a cause for pollution, even in this report!

Besides the above, there are several other critical aspects of this study by IIT, that need to be highlighted. Such as:

  • The study extended over two full seasons – both winter and summer – in Delhi, including the Diwali Period.
  • The study lists out not only the severity of the pollution but also scientifically lists out the main contributors or sources of this pollution.
  • The source of the pollutant is identified by a chemical analysis of the pollutants captured in the equipment. For example: presence of Si (Silica) in the PM, among others, points towards soil and road dust as the pollutants. Likewise, fly-ash towards power plants and so on.
  • Thus, this report may be treated as most scientific, comprehensive and credible as far as pollution in Delhi is concerned.
  1. Affidavits and Reports filed by CPCB

CPCB made three significant points in its submissions.

  1. That oxides of Sulphur and Nitrogen (SOand NO2) remained within limits during Diwali.
  2. That the levels of PM 10 (Particulate Matter less than 10 Microns) and PM 2.5 (Particulate Matter less than 2.5 Microns) did see a significant increase during Diwali period and were the main reasons for pollution.
  • That these enhanced levels of Particulate Matter, dissipated within two or three days (leaving no scope for long term impact).
  1. Report of Supreme Court appointed committee to study impact on health of citizens

Findings of this committee are summarised in this extract of para 21 from the 2018 judgment:

By saying that the relationship between pollution on Diwali and impact on health was “not significant statistically,” the committee was basically saying that there was no causal relationship between the two or in simpler terms that Pollution did not have any adverse impact the health of people during Diwali. (“Statistical significance” is a technical term/concept in statistics, used to differentiate a mere correlation from a causal relationship).

  1. Findings of all others, Dr. Arvind Kumar, Gauri Maulekhi, news reports and direct experience of SC judges

You would note that

  • This section of people reported great increase in pollution, increased inflow of patients in their clinics with various breathing ailments (Dr. Arvind) and extreme stress caused to animals (Gauri Maulekhi) in personal affidavits filed with the court.
  • However, the findings reported by these individuals are more a narration of personal experience and not the findings of any scientific study with verifiable data as is the case with the findings of NGT, IIT and CPCB.

Having read through each of the above reports and submissions, the author felt a need to further check the levels of pollution all through the year and not just around Diwali. Data of past five years from 2015 to 2020 (available in public) was thus analysed. The findings are surprising, if not shocking!

There emerged two critical points that did not find much consideration in the court proceedings.

  1. While it’s true, as CPCB says, that Diwali days did see enhanced levels of pollution, what the CPCB missed pointing out is that other Non-Diwali days saw pollution levels much higher than those seen during Diwali – in some cases even double of that seen during Diwali. (See Tablebelow of PM 10 levels from 2015 to 2020 at RK Puram, Delhi monitoring station).
  • Pollution Levels on next day of Diwali is marked in red whereas pollution levels on other Non-Diwali days is marked in blue.
  • The levels like 825 seen on 7-Nov-2017 or 933 seen on 12-Jun-2018, can by no stretch of imagination be attributed to Diwali. But what can they be attributed to then? Unfortunately, there has been no discussion on this.
  • Can anyone say with any degree of certainty that factors responsible for increase in pollution on 12-Jun-2018 and other such similar days, were not in play during Diwali?

The other aspect missed is that:

  1. Everyone is focussing on just 2-3 days of the year while ignoring the remaining 362 odd days!
  • The two tablesgiven below – summarising the number of healthy and unhealthy days in Delhi for the period 2015 to 2020 – can perhaps help underscore this point.
  • The Table of PM 2.5 levels above, shows that Delhi had a total of 1255 unhealthy to hazardousdays (632 + 469 + 154) in the past five years.
  • Table of PM 10 levels, similarly shows Delhi having had a total of 854 (326 +340+188) unhealthy to hazardous days in this period.
  • Sadly, however, everyone from public and media to government, courts and pollution control agencies – concentrated only on 10 out of these 1255 days – that too without much success and after spoiling the entire joy and fun of one of the biggest festivals of this nation!

With the above discussion arises a more important question which all of us need to ask:

Why are all those, with an avowed agenda of fighting for the “right to clean air,” almost singularly, if not obsessively, focussed on just 10 out of the 1255 polluted days that we’ve had in the past five years? That too when many of 1245 days, which they do not even seek to address, have pollution levels much higher than the 10 days which they, at least, make a pretence of addressing.

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  1. Analysis of judgments in the case

There are four judgments that have been passed in the Supreme Court in this case WP (civil) 728/2015 and related matters. The last judgment, which is in force now, was passed on 23.10.2018. To understand this 2018 judgment, it is important to first understand the previous three judgments and especially the interesting turn that the case took, after the second judgment was passed, in September 2017.

In an emergent response to the extreme levels of pollution seen in Delhi in 2016, the Court, on 11.11.2016, suspended licenses of all shops selling fireworks in NCR (National Capital Region).

Then, around 10 months after this, on 12th September 2017, after hearing detailed arguments of both sides, the Court passed a judgment with two critical observations:

  1. That, there is no clear proof of crackers causing pollutionin Delhi; and
  2. That, in light of the above, a complete ban on fireworks was “too radical” and not advisable.

Thus saying, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, lifted the order of suspension on sale of fireworks that was imposed in November 2016.  (See screenshots of the extracts from the judgment)

After this judgment, the events took a very interesting turn.

If any judgment goes against us, we ordinary mortals, generally, accept the same as fate and move on or, at best – appeal against the judgment. But the set of petitioners in this case, obviously, are no ordinary mortals. The power and influence wielded by them can be gauged from the fact that when the judgment of the bench was not to their liking, they presented a rather insignificant document and attempted to get the bench that was hearing the case itself changed!

This is not an allegation being levelled by the author but the recorded finding of the Hon’ble Supreme Court itself. See extract from the judgment delivered in Oct 2017:

Even more intriguing than the constitution of the new bench, was the apartment change in its stance.  While the earlier bench had said that there was no clear proof of crackers causing pollution in Delhi, the new bench took the view that:

  1. There is “direct evidence”to show that the “direct and immediate cause” of pollution in Delhi in 2016 was the “burning of crackers during Diwali!” (para 10 of Oct 2017 judgment).
  2. And that – “…there is virtually a consensus in the society that the crackers should not be burnt during Diwali…”

Hence, the new bench in October 2017, less than a month after September 2017 judgment, and just a week before Diwali, rolled back the earlier orders which allowed people to sell fireworks in NCR. The way in which the bench did this was also unique.

It (bench) said that it was not sitting in “review of the September judgment” and was not overturning the judgment. But it (the court) was just changing the date from which the September judgment would become effective – which is from 01.11.2017 – around 12 days after Diwali  (celebrated on 19.10.2017). Thus, it reimposed the ban on sales of fireworks in NCR before Diwali – a step which the earlier bench had called “too radical and unwarranted,”- and lifted the ban again, just after Diwali!

Thus, was achieved a review of a judgment without a formal review and a ban imposed, without actually imposing a ban! The justification given by the bench was that the suspension of fireworks was a step to “…test..and find out if there would be positive effect of this suspension on pollution, during the Diwali period.”

The fireworks were, therefore, banned in NCR – this time, not to stop Pollution but to “test and see” if it stopped pollution!

Weird though it may seem, this experiment was carried out during Diwali of 2017 and the case, subsequently, hinged on the results of this experiment. The results were soon submitted in form of two reports. The content of these reports and the Court’s interpretations of them, are given hereunder:

  1. CPCB report on level of pollution in Delhi during Diwali 2017

The report stated that while, NO2 and SO2 levels remained within limits, with a slight increment in SO2, the PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels showed an increase of up to 2 to 3.5 times at some places. This, though, dissipated within 2-3 days – leaving no scope for any long-term impact.

While what is said in this report is important, what is not said or missed is even more important. Note that:

  • This report said that Pollution levels increased during Diwali but what it did not state was that on other non-Diwali days, the Pollution levels were even higher or rather, much higher than those seen during Diwali (see graphs on page #8).
  • If pollution, on days which are months away from Diwali – 12 Jun 2018, for instance, with PM 10 levels of 933 – is more than double of the level seen during Diwali (PM 10 level of 365 on 20.10.17) – then surely it’s a sign that there are other factors at play – which are perhaps even more important, in increasing Delhi’s pollution. But no effort was made by CPCB to bring the above facts to the notice of the Court.
  • Much worse, CPCB did not deem it fit to even record basic factors like wind speed and humiditywhich have a direct bearing on quality of air. Expecting it to factor in the impact of crop burning on air pollution was hence, a far cry.
  • No effort was made to check the chemical composition of the Particulate Mattereither – to enable accurate identification and quantification of the source of pollution. The study done by IIT Kanpur, as shown earlier, had done a full chemical analysis of the PM and it did not identify fireworks as a source of pollution.

Hence, the claim that crackers caused the pollution in Delhi during Diwali, would not stand the test of science.

  1. Report of committeeappointed by the Supreme Court to assess impact on health of citizens

This committee stated that “..adverse impact of firecracker bursting..was not significant statistically.”

As stated earlier, what the committee means by the above is that they could not find any adverse impact of bursting crackers on the health of citizens in Delhi! With this assertion of the Supreme Court appointed Committee, the case against the fireworks should have ended then and there – after all, “grave harm” and “irreversible damage” to health of citizens were touted as the main reasons for filing the case.

The Court, nonetheless, interpreted the report differently. See extract:

From the above extract, it looks like the Court was, rather surprisingly – not apprised of the true meaning of the statistical concept of “Statistical significance.” And was therefore, misled into deriving a meaning which is the exact opposite of what was said in the report!

The above misinterpretation notwithstanding, the Hon’ble Court was led into committing another grave error – that of relying on anecdotal and unverifiable claims made by individual petitioners instead of relying on the scientific, evidence based and verifiable reports submitted by NGT, IIT and the Supreme Court appointed committee itself! See extract of the judgment dtd 23.10.2018.

Thus, to summarise the above rulings for a better understanding:

  1. The Supreme Court, in an emergency response to the severe pollution in Delhi, banned sales of all fireworks (in Delhi) from 11.11.2016.
  2. After a detailed hearing and study of various reports, the Court said that there is no clear proof of crackers causing pollutionand therefore, lifted the ban on 12.09.2017.
  3. The petitioners, unhappy with the ruling got themselves a new bench to hear the case and the new bench now ruled that there is direct evidence of crackers causing pollution in Delhi!
  4. Therefore, it re-imposed the ban on 9.10.2017 and lifted the ban back again from 1.11.2017 after Diwali.
  5. The reason for banning sales of fireworks during Diwali was – also to enable the Court to “test” and see the effect it had on pollution!
  6. The committee constituted by the Court to monitor this ‘experiment,’ averred that the increased pollution during Diwali did not have an adverse impacton health of people.
  7. The Court, however, was misled into believing that the Committee had found that there is an adverse impacton the health of people!
  8. Hence, the Court, finally on 23.10.2018 banned production and sale of all fireworks other than “Green Crackers” across India.

You may now draw your own conclusions from the above.

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D. Paradox of the Precautionary Principle

Three parts ( A to C) on the subject, covered till now, would have given the readers a good idea about the reasons for the ban on crackers – all of which, on close examination, turn out to be hollow and non-substantive.

The petitioners and the Court too, perhaps, realise that the reasons and the data submitted in their favour do not cut much ice. That is why they needed to employ something called as the “Precautionary Principle,” – the application of which required no data, proof or reasoning other than the subjective opinion of a few.

This part of the article series, delves deeper into Precautionary Principle and its application in the case of fireworks.

What is Precautionary Principle (PP – from hereon)?

PP, in simple terms, is nothing but the adage “Prevention is better than cure.”

However, in cases where the environment is concerned and where there is a threat of severe and irreversible damage to the environment, this principle is used, as a part of accepted law, to take preventive action of regulating/stopping a certain activity/project/product – even if there is not enough scientific evidence to establish potential harm.

In other words, PP is like a mixture of Preventive Detention Act and UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) – a deadly combination under which, anyone can be arrested on the basis of a mere suspicion and the burden of providing proof of innocence also placed on the one charged.

Paradox of using PP in the case of fireworks

From a reading of the judgments we note that, both – the petitioners and the Court – are unequivocal in their assertions about there being enough scientific data available, to link crackers not only to pollution, but also to the great damage caused to human health.

Extract from para # 30 of 2018 judgment

“…This again indicates a definite causal connection between burning crackers during Diwali and air pollution.”

Extract from para # 31 of 2018 judgment

“The aforesaid findings are sufficient to negate the arguments of the opposite side that there is absence of scientific study about the adverse effect of crackers during Diwali.”

Despite such emphatic assertions, both – the petitioners and the Court – have used the doctrine of PP not only to justify the use of preventive measures, but also to cover for the lack of sufficient data/proof.

Para# 31 of the 2018 judgment further reads as:

“It is rightly argued by the petitioners that this principle (PP) does not need exact studies/material. The very word ‘precautionary’ indicates that such a measure is taken by way of precaution which can be resorted to even in absence of definite studies!”

The important question to ask is:

“If the data used by petitioners is as definite as they claim it to be, then why is there a need for them to take shelter of PP, specifically, to cover for inadequacy of data?”

By their very act of using PP in this manner, do they not betray the lack of confidence they have in their own claims & data?

Be that as it may, since the Court has used PP, let us also examine the merits of its usage in the present context.

Flaws in application of PP to fireworks

There are a few key elements in the application of PP. These are:

  1. The damage or the threat of damage has to be severe & irreversible
  2. Full assessment of threat may not be possible due to inadequacies of science
  3. Because of #2 above, the “burden of proof” is placed on the entity seeking to alter status-quo

Points #1 & #3 above flow from #2. Only because of an inadequacy of scientific method or means to measure potential harm, are we required to shift the burden of proof  onto the proponent of the activity or onto the entity seeking to alter the status-quo. Hence, let us first see, if and what the inadequacy of science is in this case.

The key metrics needed to be evaluated here are:

  1. Percentage contribution of a sourceto air pollution:  This is widely measured, used and even reported in multiple court cases, including those in the NGT and the Supreme Court. Some such instances are given below:
  • Vehicular pollution contributes nearly 20% of total air pollution load in NCT Delhi.
  • 13 power plants around Delhi contribute 80% of the Sulphate and 50% of the Nitrogen to receptor concentration.
  • Transport sector contributes 41%, wind-blown dust 21.5 % and Industries 18.6 % to PM 2.5 Pollution in Delhi.

It should, thus, be absolutely clear to anyone and everyone that there is, most definitely, no inadequacy of science in measuring this metric. Why then, I wonder, has no one till now bothered to ask the most basic and critical of all questions:

What is the percentage contribution of fireworks to the air pollution in Delhi and India?

Maintaining ambiguity by not quantifying the percentage of pollution, perhaps, helps the vested interests by enabling them to substitute hard data with empty rhetoric like – “..even if crackers are not the only cause of pollution and even if the pollution caused is less, banning crackers only makes the environment cleaner, no matter by how small a factor. Afterall, every drop counts!”- and so on and so forth!

  1. Effect of fireworks on health: This can also be easily evaluated. In fact, as shown earlier, it has been evaluated by the Supreme Court appointed committee in this very case itself. (It reported that there is no adverse impact of bursting fireworks on human health).

Thus, it becomes fairly evident that there is absolutely no inadequacy of science in this case – neither in measuring the contribution of fireworks to air pollution nor in measuring their impact on environment or on human health.

Why then would anyone use Precautionary Principle and plead inadequacy of data, as has been done in this case, seems truly baffling. It seems almost as if the data dished out by the reports furnished was not to the liking of some. Hence, PP was brought in more as a decoy to discredit the otherwise credible data and not because there was an actual lack of data.

The above, nonetheless, is not the end of errors in the application of PP to this case. There is more gore.

No one seems to have paid adequate attention to #3 above that the “burden of proof is on the entity which changes status-quo!” Do look back and check which entity changed the status quo here. Fireworks have been in use in India and the world for several centuries now without any problem. And if there is a change in status-quo here, then it has been done by the Courts. So, logically, it should now be the Courts which should bear the “burden of proof!” Sounds absurd!

Perhaps, because, common sense dictates that it is only the proponent of an activity who can change the status-quo by initiating some new – a new action/formulation. Let’s look at some of the cases where PP has been applied, for more clarity:

  • MC Mehta (Lakes case)– New construction was sought to be done near lakes but was stopped.
  • AP Pollution Control Board Vs Prof M V Nayudu case– New chemical factory was sought to be set up but was stopped.
  • Blues sea Turtle Fishing case between Japan & New Zealand– New eco sensitive area was being tapped for fishing but was stopped!
  • Large Hadron Collider case– New equipment, was sought to be used at CERN for experiments and was allowed by refusing to apply PP.

The key element, as you would note, is that – there is something “new” which was initiated by the proponent of the activity in each of the above cases. That there could ever be a case like the present one of fireworks – where the status quo has been changed by a party other than the proponent of the activity, that too without the proponent initiating anything new, would perhaps have been unimaginable for the proponents of the Principle.

To summarise the above:

When there is found:

  1. No newactivity/formulation introduced in fireworks;
  2. No inadequacy of science in measuring any metric – be it a) percentage contribution to air pollution or b) impact on human health; and
  3. No adverse effect of bursting fireworks on human health at all, leave aside severe and irreversible damage, as is required;

then, surely, there remains no case, whatsoever, for application of Precautionary Principle.

And when you combine the above with the fact that:

  1. IIT Kanpur has measured and found the percentage contribution of fireworks to air pollution in Delhi – to be almost zero, if not zero; and
  2. A committee appointed by the Supreme Court itself has found no adverse effect of bursting fireworks on human health;

then, there remains no ground for the case itself!

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  1. How other nations handle fireworks?

Having had a detailed look at the handling of fireworks in India in parts A to D, let us now take a look at how other nations handle fireworks and get a fresh perspective of actions in our own country.

If there is so much hungama with respect to fireworks in India, then surely there might be similar brouhaha in other nations too – or so, the author assumed. Reality, it turns out – is quite different. Far from banning fireworks, nations seem to be celebrating and making special exemptions for fireworks.

Take the case of England, for instance. Instead of banning fireworks, England gives special exemptions for various festivals, including Diwali, to enable people to burst fireworks! See this screenshot from website of Metropolitan Police of London .

Does it not seem ironical that a country like England, which has no specific cultural or civilisational affinity with Diwali, makes special exemptions for bursting crackers on Diwali and a country like India, which has deep associations with Diwali, goes all out to completely stop the use of fireworks on Diwali?

Do note that England is not the exception in the world but the rule. Sadly, India with its propensity for ban – turns out to be the exception!

Fireworks, in some form or the other, in public display or in private use, are a part & parcel of celebrations across the globe. While they are surely regulated to varying degrees, more for safety considerations than for environmental considerations, there is hardly a nation that has completely banned fireworks.

  • In Montreal, Canadaand Monte Carlo in Monaco among others – huge competitions are organised for fireworks.
  • Manilla in Philippines– Organises an annual World Pyro Olympics event!
  • Japan– During Hanabi Festival, crackers are burst daily for almost a month, every year.
  • France– The eve of Bastille day (14th July) is marked with a huge display of fireworks to celebrate the French Revolution and the Storming of Bastille.
  • New year, Halloweenand National Days in a large number of countries, Hungary, Malta, South Korea, Switzerland, Australia  are incomplete without fireworks.

The above examples notwithstanding, let us look at the specific case of United States in some detail, as the US is known to have the most stringent laws for environmental protection, among the major countries of the world.

If crackers are as harmful & dangerous for the environment as they are made out to be in India, then it would be safe to assume that they would surely be banned in the United States – after all, US is the country which has the most stringent environmental standards in the world. Reality again turns out to be different. Quite to the contrary, United States turns out to be the biggest consumer of fireworks in the entire world! They burst crackers worth around Rs. 10,000 crores every year – which is more than five times the value of crackers burst in India (Rs. 1800 crores).

Why this incongruency? What do you think is the reason for US and other countries like UK, France, Switzerland, Japan etc. – all of which have much higher standards of environmental protection than India – not banned fireworks?

  • Do these countries not care for their environment? or
  • Are they incapable of understanding the immense, ‘catastrophic’ threat posed by fireworks to their environment and human health? or
  • Is it just that the ban in India on fireworks, has nothing to do with environment at all – and it is something else that is driving this obsessive overdrive against fireworks?

The answer, perhaps, is best given by a pollution monitoring official in the US, who is reported to have said “It’s (July 4th) just 1 day out of 365 days in a year! Why sweat so much for it?”

How I wish, such better sense and logic prevailed in our country too.

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  1. Conclusion

Readers may please note that the above, despite the long length, is not yet a compendium of all arguments against the ban on fireworks but just a collection of the most critical ones. There are many more important aspects that have been left out of the discussion for the sake of brevity and respect for the institutions. Shall close by giving an instance of just one such aspect hitherto untouched – “Green Crackers.” This will, perhaps, also give a good insight into how things function in our country, India.

The Courts have banned the manufacture and sale of all crackers other than “Green Crackers” in the country since October 2018. Interesting aspect to note, however, is that there were absolutely no “Green Crackers” being manufactured in the Country then. “Green Crackers” were till then, only at the conception stage in different labs of the government. Even today, around two years after that judgment, no one is quite sure how many, if any, green crackers are available in the country!

Yet, crackers worth thousands of crores have been made, sold, bought and burst in the country in the past two years, even while the ban has been in force. Almost an equivalent number of crackers will, in all likelihood, be burst again in 2020 – or, may be, a little less due to Corona. But how many, if any, of these will be green – is anyone’s guess. The truth is known and understood by all – from the manufacturer, to the seller, to the buyer, to the government, to the police, to the media and to the Hon’ble Courts also! But who is to speak the truth of the Emperor’s old clothes? Surely, not this author. Not for now, at least.

Hope that the author succeeded in giving a fair and objective review of the case. Also hope that the readers are in a much better position now than before, to reach a more informed conclusion of their own with respect to crackers.

Synopsis

The key takeaways or findings of this entire paper are given in points 1 to 10 – in the abstract of the paper on page 3. Rest of the pages are all data, proofs and arguments based on which one reaches those ten conclusions. Would sincerely request the readers to go over those points once again and check if they concur with the findings or not.

If we are to, further summarise those ten points and encapsulate their essence in even fewer and simpler words –   then it would, perhaps, be apt to state that:

Crackers, in India, have been made a scapegoat for all the pollution problems of India. And the ban on them, has given a convenient cloak to the establishment to cover its complete inaction and extreme ineptitude in addressing the real causes of pollution.

For an analogy, imagine the need of the establishment to find and eliminate the perpetrators of a major terrorist attack in the country. What does one do if one cannot find the real perpetrators / terrorists? The easiest way out is to find an easy, innocent target and eliminate it in a fake encounter!

A fake encounter – is exactly what has happened with Crackers in India.

Sadly, it’s an encounter which has been aided and abetted by everyone in the country – from the government, to the legislature, to the judiciary, to the media – right up to the people of India.

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