Customers shop for firecrackers and fireworks at a stall during the festival of Dhanteras in the Masjid Bunder area of Mumbai, India. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

India’s Top Court Says No Nationwide Firecracker Ban

(Bloomberg) -- India’s top court declined to ban the sale of fire crackers across the country but imposed some restrictions on their purchase and use, as the South Asian nation struggles to battle the world’s worst air pollution.

The decision reverses last year’s blanket ban on selling firecrackers in the capital, New Delhi and nearby cities that activists had hoped would be extended across the country. The Supreme Court’s decision comes before the annual Diwali festival in early November, when millions of citizens burst firecrackers that dramatically worsens the air quality.

As winter sets in across north India, air pollution levels -- including fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 -- have begun to climb as farmers in neighboring states burned their leftover crops.

The Supreme Court’s two-judge bench headed by Justice A.K. Sikri ordered a ban on the online sale of some firecrackers. They said setting off fireworks will only be allowed for a two-hour window during Diwali, and for half an hour during Christmas and New Year’s eve celebrations.

India is home to the world’s 10 most polluted cities and the government is fighting toxic air that’s estimated to cause more than a million premature deaths each year, according to estimates from the World Bank and the nonprofit Health Effects Institute.

Although air quality is bad in some Indian cities year-round, Diwali -- the Hindu festival of light -- causes huge spikes in fine particulate matter that have been linked to ailments ranging from asthma to heart disease and lung cancer. Around the time of Diwali celebrations last year, Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal called his city a "gas chamber."

India’s manufacturers and sellers of fireworks had opposed the ban, saying vehicular pollution, construction dust and farmers burning agricultural waste from last season’s rice crop were the main causes of deteriorating air quality in winter. They argued the ban would adversely impact the livelihood of thousands employed by the industry.

The top court also directed state governments to explore feasibility of community cracker bursting during festivals to reduce overall sale.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.