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Supreme Court bans firecracker sales in Delhi ahead of peak pollution season

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Monday temporarily banned the sale of firecrackers in and around the capital ahead of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, as it looks to prevent a repeat of severe air pollution that forced school closures last year.

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New Delhi's air quality has hit "very unhealthy" levels, U.S. Embassy data shows. This is often blamed on burning of unwanted vegetation on farms in neighbouring states, usual at this time of year, worsened by fumes from fireworks. (

The ban takes effect immediately and will run until Nov. 1, said a panel of Supreme Court judges headed by Justice Arjan Kumar Sikri, adding its impact on the region’s air quality would have to be examined after the festival.

“All temporary licenses to sell firecrackers stand cancelled,” said Haripriya Padmanabhan, a lawyer representing the group that sought the ban.

“People who had already purchased crackers will be able to burst them. Hopefully they won’t do that,” she told Asian News International, a partner of Reuters Television.

Diwali, traditionally ushered in with the setting off of firecrackers mainly by India’s majority Hindu community, falls on Oct. 19 this year.

The government welcomed the move, with Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan requesting people to abide by the order.

But others, including Priti Gandhi, a leader from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, saw it as an attack on tradition and Hindu culture.

“We Indians will protest and burn crackers,” wrote one Twitter user, Ishkaran Bhandari. “We will uphold our culture, traditions and celebrate Diwali.”

Last November, about a million children were forced to stay home from school, thousands of workers reported sick and queues formed outside shops selling face masks as New Delhi struggled with its worst pollution for nearly 20 years.

Vehicle emissions and dust from construction sites were the factors blamed for that spike, besides firecrackers and farm burnings.

India and China together account for more than half of the 4.2 million deaths attributable to air pollution worldwide in 2015, a study by the U.S.-based Health Effects Institute (HEI) showed.

Global environmental group Greenpeace said the court ban on crackers was only a small relief for the “episodic air pollution levels in October”.

“The pollution levels in north India are multiple times higher than the national standards throughout the winter months, hence we also need to look at a stricter, comprehensive and time-bound action plan to address all sources of air pollution across India,” a Greenpeace India spokeswoman said.

Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty and Krishna N. Das; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Janet Lawrence