The National Green Tribunal has ordered relaxation of the firecracker noise norm in Bengal from 90 decibel at 5 metres from the source of the sound to 125 decibel at 4 meters from the source.
The less stringent norm was set by the ministry of environment and forests in 1999, two years after the 90-decibel norm of the Bengal pollution control board came into effect across the state. The state norm had received widespread support from the green lobby.
The tribunal order, delivered by a five-member bench headed by Justice V.R. Kingaonkar, followed a bunch of petitions by cracker manufacturers, traders and users.
The tribunal directed that “the WBPCB (West Bengal Pollution Control Board) shall issue amended order, accordingly, within a period of one month… in the meanwhile, the benchmark fixed by the MoEF (ministry of environment and forest)… shall continue to apply for the production and sale of firecrackers in the State of West Bengal”.
The ruling effectively means that it comes into effect immediately unless the state moves the Supreme Court and gets a stay on its execution.
The tribunal held that the state pollution control board had fixed the noise limit “hurriedly, without due consideration of the experts’ opinion”. The bench conceded that the state board could set a norm more stringent than the one introduced by the Centre but only after consulting the central pollution control board.
The bench also ordered the central board and the ministry of environment and forests to conduct a fresh study of the “noise pollution and its impact” and suggest new norms, if required, within six months.
“We have seen the order and will decide our course of action in consultation with the state government,” said Binay Dutta, the chairman of the state board.
Last year, the state board had rejected demands by the cracker lobby to relax the norms based on a report by an independent expert group.
The cracker lobby feels their longstanding stand has been vindicated. “We always felt that the 125-decibel norm should be allowed in Bengal, like in the rest of India,” said Babla Roy of the Sara Bangla Atasbazi Unnoyan Samity. Among the petitions the national tribunal dealt with was one filed by Roy and Yakub Qazi of the Pradesh Atasbazi Byabsaee Samity.
“The state took a neutral position,” said Roy.
When asked why the state government had not opposed the plea, an official of the environment department said: “We told the court what we had to.”
The green lobby has come down on the state for its “neutral position”.
“It’s part of a strategy, which the government thinks will help it escape the blame for relaxing the norm. We will fight the change tooth and nail,” said a representative of green umbrella Sabuj Mancha.
“I am shocked and feel that the facts have not been correctly presented before the tribunal. Its unbelievable that the norm that has been hailed internationally will have to be changed,” observed former high court justice Bhagabati Prasad Banerjee.
Biswajit Mukherjee, a former chief law officer of the state board, too feels that the facts were not properly presented before the tribunal.