- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
- GS-3: Environment & pollution
Supreme Court Clamp Down on Firecracker Manufacturers
Context: Recently, the Supreme Court said a preliminary enquiry by the CBI into the firecracker industry, including in Tamil Nadu, revealed rampant violation of its ban on use of toxic ingredients like barium and its salts
What did the Supreme Court rule three years ago?
- Three years ago, the court ruled out a full ban on firecrackers and issued orders stipulating that only reduced emission and green crackers be allowed, with tight restrictions on timings when they could be burst.
- SC also prohibited chemicals such as Barium salts and to label the firecrackers in compliance with the law.
- The orders relate to a petition — Arjun Gopal and Others vs Union of India and Others — filed on behalf of three children in 2015, seeking measures to mitigate air pollution and asserting their right to clean air under Article 21 of the Constitution.
What is the controversy?
- Firecrackers use fuel and oxidisers to produce a combustion reaction, and the resulting explosion, releasing energy, spreads the material in a superheated state. The metal salts in the explosive mix get ‘excited’ and emit light.
- Metals in the mix, which have a varying arrangement of electrons in shells outside their nucleus (different mass number), produce different wavelengths of light in this reaction, generating spectacular colours.
- Barium compounds, for example, produce green light and Strontium and Lithium salts, red.
- But as many studies show, the burning of firecrackers is an unusual and peak source of pollution, made up of particles and gases.
- The Central Pollution Control Board conducted a study in Delhi in 2016, and found that the levels of Aluminium, Barium, Potassium, Sulphur, Iron and Strontium rose sharply on Deepavali night, from low to extremely high.
- For instance, Barium rose from 0.268 microgrammes per cubic metre to 95.954 mcg/m3.
- Pollution from firecrackers affects the health of people and animals, and aggravates the already poor ambient air quality in Indian cities.
- This has resulted in court cases calling for a total ban on firecrackers, and court finally deciding to restrict the type of chemicals used as well as their volume.
- Evidently, the new cracker formulations by SC is followed by majority of firecracker manufacturers. Firecrackers are not labelled with information on the person responsible for legal compliance, as ordered by the court.
- The petitioners argue that out of about 2,000 manufacturers, only 120 had the capacity and inclination to work with the court to green the crackers. The industry is therefore seeking light regulation as many jobs are dependent on it.
Can green crackers make a difference?
- The Central government says through its National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (CSIR-NEERI), Nagpur, has come out with firecrackers that have “reduced emission light and sound” and 30% less particulate matter using Potassium Nitrate as oxidant.
- These crackers are named
- Safe Water Releaser, which minimises Potassium Nitrate and Sulphur use, but matches the sound intensity of conventional crackers
- Safe Minimal Aluminium , where Aluminium use is low
- Safe Thermite Crackers with low Sulphur and Potassium Nitrate.
- These crackers are to be identified using unique QR codes to guide consumers.
- The Supreme Court had also previously ordered that the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation should certify the composition of fireworks only after being assured that they were not made of banned chemicals.
At the recent hearing, the Supreme Court noted that there had been a “flagrant violation” of previous orders. It took note of the large volume of crackers burnt almost every day and felt inclined to fix responsibility. “If liability is fixed on the Commissioner of Police, only then can this happen,” it remarked.
Connecting the dots:
- Death by fireworks
- Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO)