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The ceaseless bursting of firecrackers on Diwali night in violation of a Supreme Court directive has highlighted the difficulties faced by government agencies in enforcing orders when laws are routinely flouted and accentuated the "large gap" between the law and the capacity to enforce it, activists said Thursday.
In cities across India, firecrackers went up in smoke before and after the 8 to 10 p.m. limit imposed by the Supreme Court days before Diwali.
The court had also ordered that firecrackers, which do not meet noise and smoke specifications, should not be sold in the national capital.
Ashutosh Dikshit, CEO, URJA (apex body of Delhi resident welfare associations) said, "The bursting of firecrackers on Diwali night in violation of a Supreme Court directive has highlighted the difficulty in enforcing orders when even minor laws are routinely flouted."
He pointed out that almost no public order — judicial or executive — is enforced effectively.
Given that Diwali is an annual affair and the fact that religious and political sentiments are associated with it, the permission to burst crackers for a specified duration is a significant achievement for the movement against air pollution, Dikshit added.
"Insofar the violation of the law is concerned, that is a matter for the government to handle.
"Committed, RWA and activists did their best, and in my view there is no reason for despondency for us. As for government agencies, there is a large gap between the law and their capacity to enforce it," he said.
A thick haze engulfed Delhi a day after Diwali as the national capital recorded its worst air quality of the year with the pollution level entering "severe-plus emergency" level or ten times the permissible limit. The rampant bursting of toxic firecrackers in violation of a Supreme Court order was one of the main reasons that deteriorated the air quality, authorities said.
Greenpeace India said in a statement that the issue has multiple stakeholders such as the manufacturers of firecrackers, the agencies responsible for implementing the law and the general public.
"It was an ambitious expectation 10 days before Diwali. Now that the festival is over, it's up to the implementing agencies to ensure that the order gets implemented to the fullest next year," it said.
Delhi's pollution level post-Diwali nearly doubled this year when compared to last year.
Reecha Upadhyay, an environment activist with Help Delhi Breathe campaign, said the SC order was "ambitious".
"People didn't even know what green crackers are and there was no awareness among them about it. The enforcement is the first step but it is the responsibility of the public to not burn firecrackers," Upadhyay said.
Many residents and green activists voiced their helplessness and expressed anguish at the violation of the Supreme Court's 8 PM to 10 PM time limit on bursting firecrackers.
Debi Goenka from Conservation Action Trust said the court order was blatantly flouted in Mumbai.
"Firecrackers were burnt in my neighbourhood from 6.30 pm onwards up to way past 11 pm, and also this morning. It is clear that there is no political will to implement the ban on firecrackers," Goenka said.
Ritwick Dutta, a lawyer dealing with issues related to the environment, pointed out that the violation of the court order was not unexpected.
"However, I feel that a beginning has been made. One cannot expect an overnight change in people's behaviour because of a court order. But at least there is a recognition by the court of the harmful consequences of crackers and the gradual realisation by the public that using crackers is not acceptable any more," he said.
Residents of Delhi maintained that the city has become a "gas chamber" and questioned why politicians can not join hands and bring ordinances on various related issues.
"Delhi is a gas chamber for TB patients like me. We are caught in a bind. If we escape TB, then we will die of pollution," Hasmukh Rai, a senior citizen from Mayur Vihar, said.
"In this season, when everybody is talking of bringing ordinances on a variety of issues, why can't politicians join hands and bring an ordinance to ban stubble burning?" he said.
South Delhi resident Sagarika Sharma said she had lost her mother to lung cancer last year due to this hazardous pollution. "My mother was not a smoker or drinker, but yes, she was guilty of living in Delhi."
Sharma wonders how people cannot understand the repercussions of bursting crackers. "I understand they want to celebrate but at the cost of digging one's own grave!"
Even as police launched a crackdown in Delhi and other cities against the violators and made multiple arrests, several people said, for them, Diwali meant bursting firecrackers.
"Since childhood, we have been bursting crackers on Diwali. We do not understand green or red crackers. What we know is that it is a symbol of the festival for us and we will continue doing it," said Himanshu Bhalla, a Gurgaon resident.
(With inputs from agencies.)