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.
New Delhi's air quality has already 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. (http://bit.ly/2eZOb9H)
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 that 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," he told Asian News International, a partner of Reuters Television.
Diwali, traditionally ushered in with the burning of firecrackers, falls on Oct. 19 this year.
"This is a nice step, let us look at other sources of #airpollution too," global environmental group Greenpeace said on social network Twitter.
But others saw it as an attack on tradition.
"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 giant neighbour 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.