The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a plea seeking to quash a Calcutta High Court order banning firecrackers in the state. In its order, the top court observed that preserving life was more important than festivals, Live Law reported.

“Of course, festivals are an important part of our culture,” a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Indira Banerjee said. “But we are in the middle of a pandemic. There can be no greater value than the preservation of life. We understand this may involve hardship. But, look at Covid-19 affected people in hospitals, elderly people etc. Can anyone step out of the house in Calcutta, Delhi or any other part of the city today?”

Senior Advocate Siddharth Bhatnagar, representing petitioner Gautam Roy, argued that the Calcutta High Court did not use any empirical data necessitating a ban on firecrackers before arriving at the conclusion. The court, however, disagreed with the statement. It said that judges and advocates are living through the pandemic and that they were conscious of the fact that festivals are important for people.

“But there are some values above festivals,” the court added. “Life itself has been imperiled at this time. Anything that contributes to improving life for senior citizens, people with comorbidities etc should be encouraged”.

The Calcutta High Court had on November 5 directed the state to ensure that firecrackers are not used, displayed or burst during the celebration of Diwali and Kali Puja in view of the coronavirus pandemic. It had added that the ban would be effective for Chhath Puja, Jagadhatri Puja and Guru Nanak’s birthday celebrations as well.

“Only wax or oil-based diyas would have to suffice, for the greater good of the citizens and in the larger public interest,” the High Court had said. Further, it directed the police to ensure that there was no sale and use of firecrackers from the date of the order to the end of November. The court also asked the police to confiscate any firecrackers or other similar items that have the potential to pollute the air.

In a separate order, the National Green Tribunal on Monday imposed a blanket ban on the sale of firecrackers in Delhi-National Capital Region as air quality in Delhi continued to remain in the “severe” category. The ban will remain in place till November 30.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel clarified that the ban would also apply to all cities and towns in the country where the average of ambient air quality in November (as per available data of last year) fell below the “poor” category.

An index reading between 0 and 50 puts the air quality in “good” category. A reading between 51 and 100 puts it in the “satisfactory” category, between 101 and 200 in the “moderate” category, and between 201 and 300 in the “poor category”. The air quality is said to be “very poor” when the index value falls between 300 and 400. An index value between 400 and 500 puts the quality in the “severe” category.

In cities and towns where the air quality is “moderate” or below, only green crackers will be allowed to be sold, the tribunal said. Besides, bursting of firecrackers would be allowed only within a limited time period of two hours during festivals such as Diwali, Chhath, New Year/ Christmas eve. The NGT said the state government would be left in-charge to decide the timings for the same.

Besides West Bengal, Karnataka, Chandigarh, Odisha, Sikkim and Rajasthan have banned the sale and use of firecrackers.