Delhi

This year, no cracker of a Deepavali in NCR

Deepavali celebrations in the Capital in 2018.  

Thousands of livelihoods are at stake and business worth crores has been rendered worthless in a single stroke after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) banned the sale and use of firecrackers this festive season.

Struggling to make ends meet for three consecutive years, firecracker retailers complained they felt short-changed due to the decision, more so as it came in the 25th hour. If financial woes stare from one corner, disposing of hundreds of kilograms of firecrackers peer from the other. They are caught in a dilemma.

While strict enforcement by Delhi Police led to the recovery of over 2,000 kg of illegal firecrackers in the Capital — even those who painstakingly procured the licence to sell green crackers had to shut shop — Ghaziabad’s firecracker hub Farrukh Nagar witnessed a shift in generational vocation.

The tribunal’s direction to ban crackers in the National Capital Region a week before Deepavali dealt a severe blow to the wholesale traders of Gurugram, where a business that was badly hit by the lockdown during the wedding season slipped closer to the abyss.

‘Black Deepavali’

“Business has been down for the last two years, but this Deepavali is truly a black Deepavali for us. A few days ago, we had Ministers walking around the market brushing up their knowledge of green crackers and wishing us good business. The next moment, everything came crashing down,” complained Rakesh Kumar Yadav, president of the Federation of Sadar Bazar Traders Association.

One of the largest wholesale markets in the country, Sadar Bazar is a firecracker hub as well. “There were around eight shops that had managed to get licence this year. Crores of firecrackers were bought by shopkeepers who put their life savings on the line besides taking loans to get their businesses on track. These shops have become storehouses of a product that was suddenly become illegal,” he said.

Amit Jain of the Ajeet Fireworks in Jama Masid area complained that different governments seemed to be in a race to forge the impression that they are trying to do something to improve the air quality. But they are not bothered of the consequences their actions bear on livelihoods.

“There is no policy when it comes to firecrackers, just orders. Why can’t governments sit down and chalk out actions at the beginning of the year instead of the last moment? Retailers are now forced to sit on stock worth ₹40 to ₹50 lakh, which is useless. Why allow manufacturing something you won’t allow to sell?” Mr. Jain asked.

Odd jobs

In Farrukh Nagar, residents said they were being forced to change professions. “For generations, we have been dealing with firecrackers. In 2017, after the Supreme Court order, around 80 permanent licences were revoked. Some of us were working with temporary licences but this NGT order took away all hope. We are jobless now,” said Mohammad Shaukeen of Rose Firecrackers.

Most of them source firecrackers in bulk from Sivakasi and sell them to retailers in the NCR and adjoining districts. “What we earn during the Deepavali period helps us run our families for at least three-four months,” he said.

Mohammad Dilshad, who used to run Shagun Firecrackers before switching to the textile business, said at least 20,000 people have been affected in Farrukh Nagar alone. “We were under the impression that we could sell green crackers and many of us stocked them for Deepavali. Now we are being told that selling green crackers is also out of question. If they had this in mind, they could have told us two months back. We could have avoided this loss,” he said.

Mr. Dilshad said it was tough to switch to other trades. “Many turned to rag-picking or scrap business.” Locals said such orders give the administration the right to raid premises. “Our godowns have already been sealed, now police come and check our residences. Suddenly, a legal activity has become illegal and we are being seen with suspicion,” said a resident requesting anonymity.

After the ban was announced, Delhi Police has recovered around 2,000 kilograms of firecrackers in raids and arrested many for bursting firecrackers. According to the police, the DCPs of all the 15 districts will constitute station-wise teams to supervise the implementation of the NGT order. Each beat staffer would be properly briefed by the SHOs to enforce the direction.

All temporary fireworks licensees need to be informed in writing about the cancellation of such licenses and police teams will inspect the licensees and seal the stock. They will also ensure its storage in the safe custody of the licensees so that it is not misused, Additional PRO (Delhi Police) Anil Mittal said. Stocks of unauthorised sellers would also be seized and legal action would be initiated against them, he added.

The officer said all permanent licenses, issued by the licensing unit as well as the Joint Chief Controller of Explosives, Faridabad are to be suspended and the licensees should be informed about the same in writing.

High and dry

Ashok Kumar, a wholesale firecrackers trader in Gurugram’s Gadauli Khurd village, said he was looking forward to Deepavali to make up for the loss suffered during the lockdown, but the NGT order had left him high and dry.

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal, a day before the NGT order, had allowed a two-hour window to sell and burst crackers on Deepavali to mitigate the economic impact on the traders. With 14 of the 22 districts in Haryana falling under the NCR, the wholesale traders don’t have the option to even sell in the neighbouring districts.

“Our business has been suffering for the past couple of years on account of ban or restrictions on the use of crackers during Deepavali. In 2018, the court ordered that only green crackers were allowed. We invested huge amounts on green crackers this year, but first the lockdown and now the court order has hit us hard,” said Mr. Kumar.

He said there were nine wholesale traders in the Millennium City and were expected to suffer losses running into crores.

Another trader, wishing anonymity, said that pollution was a round-the-year problem for NCR with vehicles, construction projects and factories being the chief culprits.

He argued that it was wrong to single out firecrackers as the reason for pollution and enforce a blanket ban. He added that the court must spare a thought about the livelihood of lakhs of workers and traders involved in the business.

(With inputs from Anuj Kumar, Ashok Kumar, Saurabh Trivedi and Jatin Anand)

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 8:14:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/this-year-no-cracker-of-a-deepavali/article33088336.ece

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