Context:

The Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to a National Green Tribunal (NGT) ban on the sale and use of firecrackers during the COVID-19 pandemic in the National Capital Region (NCR) and all cities and towns where the ambient air quality is in the poor or above categories.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Environmental Pollution, Environmental Degradation, Government Policies and Interventions), GS-II: Polity and Governance (Statutory Bodies and Quasi-Judicial Bodies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the NGT order banning firecrackers
  2. Why was the ban on firecrackers needed in 2020?
  3. Supreme Court’s recent judgement on ban of firecrackers
  4. SC on Firecrackers in the past
  5. About the National Green Tribunal (NGT)
  6. Powers of NGT
  7. Structure of National Green Tribunal

About the NGT order banning firecrackers

  • The NGT had noted in its December 2020 order that only green crackers would be permitted for Christmas and New Year – between 11:55 pm and 12:30 am – in areas where the ambient air quality was in the moderate or below categories.
  • District magistrates were directed to ensure that firecrackers were not sold and violators would have to pay compensation.
  • The Tribunal had reasoned that the “right to business is not absolute. There is no right to violate air quality and noise level norms”.
  • The NGT order of 2020 provided concessions to cities and towns that have moderate air quality, by allowing them to burst green crackers at specified hours.
  • The NGT noted that Odisha, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Chandigarh, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee and the Calcutta High Court had already banned firecrackers this year.
  • The NGT’s reasoning gave primacy to the precautionary principle in sustainable development over employment and revenue losses.

Why was the ban on firecrackers needed in 2020?

  • There were fears of a COVID-19 case surge during the winter, so it was incumbent on the Centre to work with States and prevent the burning of farm stubble ahead of Deepavali.
  • This annual phenomenon unfailingly pollutes the air across northern and eastern India, and imposes heavy health and productivity costs.
  • In the absence of pollution from agricultural residue, there might have been some room for a limited quantity of firecrackers.
  • But, climatic conditions of low temperature and atmospheric circulation at this time of year would still leave many in distress.
  • Only damage control is possible now, including steps to address the concerns of the fireworks industry.

Supreme Court’s recent judgement on ban of firecrackers

  • The Supreme Court said that it did not require a report by the Indian Institute of Technology to know that firecrackers were bad for the lungs while hearing a petition from mostly firecracker manufacturers who said the ban was an impediment to their livelihoods.
  • The court agreed with the 2020 Tribunal order and said no further clarification was required on the issue.

SC on Firecrackers in the past

  • In 2017, the SC had banned the use and sale of toxic crackers on the basis of a petition filed by two infants who pleaded for their right to life.
  • The court had said the sale of green and improved crackers would be only through licensed traders. It dismissed arguments that bursting crackers was a fundamental right and an essential practice during religious festivals like Diwali.
  • The Court’s endeavour was to strive at balancing of two rights, namely, right of the petitioners under Article 21 and right of the manufacturers and traders under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution
  • The SC said it felt that Article 25 [right to religion] is subject to Article 21 [right to life].
  • If a particular religious practice is threatening the health and lives of people, such practice is not to entitled to protection under Article 25.

About the National Green Tribunal (NGT)

  • The NGT was established on 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010, passed by the Central Government.
  • National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 is an Act of the Parliament of India which enables creation of a special tribunal to handle the expeditious disposal of the cases pertaining to environmental issues.
  • NGT Act draws inspiration from the India’s constitutional provision of (Constitution of India/Part III) Article 21 Protection of life and personal liberty, which assures the citizens of India the right to a healthy environment.
  • The stated objective of the Central Government was to provide a specialized forum for effective and speedy disposal of cases pertaining to environment protection, conservation of forests and for seeking compensation for damages caused to people or property due to violation of environmental laws or conditions specified while granting permissions.

Powers of NGT

  • The NGT has the power to hear all civil cases relating to environmental issues and questions that are linked to the implementation of laws listed in Schedule I of the NGT Act. These include the following:
    1. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974;
    2. The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977;
    3. The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980;
    4. The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981;
    5. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986;
    6. The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991;
    7. The Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
  • This means that any violations pertaining ONLY to these laws, or any order / decision taken by the Government under these laws can be challenged before the NGT.
  • Importantly, the NGT has NOT been vested with powers to hear any matter relating to the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and various laws enacted by States relating to forests, tree preservation etc.

Structure of National Green Tribunal

  • Following the enactment of the said law, the Principal Bench of the NGT has been established in the National Capital – New Delhi, with regional benches in Pune (Western Zone Bench), Bhopal (Central Zone Bench), Chennai (Southern Bench) and Kolkata (Eastern Bench). Each Bench has a specified geographical jurisdiction covering several States in a region.
  • The Chairperson of the NGT is a retired Judge of the Supreme Court, Head Quartered in Delhi.
  • Other Judicial members are retired Judges of High Courts. Each bench of the NGT will comprise of at least one Judicial Member and one Expert Member.
  • Expert members should have a professional qualification and a minimum of 15 years’ experience in the field of environment/forest conservation and related subjects.

-Source: The Hindu, Hindustan Times

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