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Explained: The Supreme Court’s Firecracker Ban and What’s Allowed Across India

On November 7, the Supreme Court of India issued a clarification regarding its decision to ban firecrackers nationwide, with a particular focus on those containing barium and other prohibited chemicals. The significance of this clarification lies in its applicability to the entire country, dispelling any misconception that the ban was restricted solely to the National Capital Region.

The clarification came in response to an application seeking direction to the Rajasthan government to comply with the top court’s order on barium crackers, specifically addressing concerns related to air and noise pollution. The bench, consisting of Justices A S Bopanna and M M Sundresh, affirmed that the previous orders issued during various petitions would bind every state, emphasizing the need for all states, including Rajasthan, to take steps to minimize air and noise pollution not only during festive seasons but also beyond.

This development gains significance as it precedes Diwali, a festival synonymous with the tradition of bursting firecrackers. As the country readies for celebrations on November 12, questions arise about the permissible types of firecrackers and their composition.

The Supreme Court’s stance on firecrackers has evolved over the years. In October 2018, the court imposed a ban on the sale and production of all crackers except ‘green crackers,’ which are designed to have reduced emissions and improved features. The ban also extended to ‘joined crackers’ and the use of barium salts in firecrackers. The court specified that noise levels should remain within permissible limits.

This position was reiterated in an order issued on October 29, 2021, wherein the court rejected a plea from the firecracker manufacturers’ association seeking permission to use joined crackers and add barium salt to green crackers. The ban on all types of firecrackers in the National Capital Region, except green crackers in areas with poor or moderate air quality, was already established by the National Green Tribunal in 2020.

Understanding what goes into the making of firecrackers is essential to grasp the implications of these bans. Typically, firecrackers consist of four primary ingredients: colorants, fuel, oxidizers, and binders. The court’s prohibition of chemicals like barium stems from their harmful impact on human health, causing issues such as skin allergies, respiratory difficulties, and even cancer.

Alternatives like aluminium, magnesium, and titanium are used for color emission without the adverse health effects. This aligns with the court’s emphasis on balancing traditional festivities with environmental responsibility.

In an effort to address environmental concerns, ‘green crackers’ have been introduced. These crackers aim to reduce pollution by replacing traditional components with less harmful alternatives. A network of Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) labs, including the Central Electro Chemical Research Institute (CECRI), Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, National Botanical Research Institute, and National Chemical Laboratory, has researched and defined three broad categories of green crackers: SWAS (Safe Water Releaser), STAR (Safe Thermite Cracker), and SAFAL (Safe Minimal Aluminium).

SWAS releases water vapor to suppress dust, STAR emits reduced particulate matter at lesser sound intensity, and SAFAL minimizes aluminum usage, emitting less noise compared to traditional crackers. These innovations, rooted in scientific research, seek to align with the court’s directives on environmental safety.

As the nation approaches Diwali, these guidelines underscore the importance of adopting eco-friendly alternatives to ensure a celebration that is not only joyous but also environmentally sustainable. The Supreme Court’s decisions and the development of green crackers signify a collective effort toward striking a balance between cultural traditions and ecological responsibility.

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