The Supreme Court has been displaying a welcome degree of concern for those affected by Delhi-NCR’s toxic air, hence its latest order banning the sale of firecrackers just over a week ahead of Diwali has to be seen in this context. The concern is laudable. However, the effect that the ban is having on the ground, would perhaps not have been desired by the court. The Supreme Court would be justified in puzzlement that the order has come to be interpreted as an attempt to stop the majority community from practising its faith. But that is exactly what has happened. The country is buzzing with comment that it is only the Hindu community that is suffering such diktats, with examples being given of similar bans and restrictions on the bull-sport of Jalikattu and the dahi handi human pyramid for Janmashtami. This is unfortunate, as the sole motive of our courts is to uphold the law and public interest. Polarizing sentiments are not good for the health of a society and could have been avoided. As for the court, instead of imposing an outright ban, it could have fixed a time limit for the bursting of firecrackers or even regulated their sale through banning super-firecrackers.
However, with the actual bursting of firecrackers not declared illegal, people are finding “innovative” and possibly unlawful means of procuring these crackers, thus directly defying the SC order. The country’s law enforcement system is not such that the ban can be enforced effectively, and Diwali is too important a festival for people to follow any order to do away with firecrackers without protest. Such defiance of a court order is detrimental for the respect the judiciary—which is one of the four pillars of Indian democracy—commands among the population of the country, apart from signifying an erosion of the law and order authority. Moreover, implementing the order needs the involvement of, and coordination among the law enforcement agencies of two states and one union territory so close to the festival.
Also, by coming so near to Diwali, when orders had been placed and inventories had been built, the ban has dealt a body-blow to the firecracker industry. Some reports are pinning the loss to around Rs 1, 000 crore, with several tens of thousand workers rendered jobless. Such an outcome was, of course, obvious.
There is no doubt that the exuberant bursting of firecrackers on the day of Diwali aggravates an already critical situation. But the aim should be to take incremental action on several fronts throughout the year to ensure that the situation does not remain at hazardous levels. Dust from construction is one of the biggest polluters in the national capital region, apart from the fumes emitted by diesel generators and vehicles, as well as kerosene stoves and firewood used in the unauthorised colonies that are spread across this vast enclave. If there has to be change, it has to be fundamental in nature. A Band-Aid cannot cure the pollution cancer. This step, although taken with the best of intentions, will not with ease achieve its goal until it finds support from the general public.