Every year, around October, Delhi reiterates and enforces a blanket ban on all firecrackers to counter the smog jacket that forms over the Capital during the winter season. Around the same time, Gurugram bans the bursting of all non-green firecrackers.
To circumvent this ban, and in anticipation of a string of festivals all the way through News Year’s Eve, this year firecracker sellers in the periphery of Gurugram, in areas such as Gadoli, Pataudi and Farrukhnagar, started their business as early as August and sold off much of their stock between August and mid-September, according to several traders.
These traders, who deal with illegal fireworks, said they were able to evade restrictions by starting their business early, and by selling the traditional varieties (rather than green firecrackers) on the sly.
Ashok Kumar Saini, who runs Starlight Crackers in Gadoli, said he sold 70% of his stock in August. “The footfall has declined as there is extensive checking at the borders with Delhi. Even those who are ready to risk police action are buying limited stock,” he said.
Saini who did not mind being named and quoted, said this year there was a chance that authorities may ban green crackers as well, if the pollution level continued to rise.
Amit Yadav, another shopkeeper in Gadoli, said while pollution had not increased after Dussehra, on Thursday, the air quality index (AQI) climbed to 289 in Gurugram. “We have been in the firecrackers business for the past 20 years and never faced such challenges. The craze for firecrackers has reduced and people do not want to spend money on them,” he said.
During a spot check on Thursday, HT found thinner crowds in the firecracker markets. When asked, traders said it was because sales started much earlier this year, adding that several of their buyers come from Delhi and Noida.
Shopkeepers said hardly any customer checks for the green fireworks logo, and instead only asks for good packaging to allay safety concerns. “People still want traditional bombs with colourful flames and noise,” said Rupesh Rao, another shopkeeper.
Gadoli is the only wholesale market for firecrackers in Delhi/NCR. Delhi used to have a huge wholesale market in Sadar Bazar, but after the ban, the business moved to Gurugram.
Rao said they have to keep all kinds of firecrackers but the packaging alone is of green firecrackers; else their consignment gets seized by police. “The teams just check the logo and hologram and these can be easily forged,” he said.
The shopkeepers have hired delivery men who travel by trains, buses and private vehicles to deliver consignments in a 150km radius to customers, who make advance payments or purchase for a minimum of ₹50,000.
The Gurugram district administration, the police and the Haryana chief minister’s flying squad have formed teams to check the packaging and will also collect samples from shops suspected of selling the contraband fireworks.
Police said teams have been formed to check the sale of illegal, firecrackers and they are conducting searches based on tip-offs and volume of footfall.
Gurugram deputy commissioner Nishant Kumar Yadav said, “Our teams are on the ground and we are checking the packaging to ensure no polluting firecrackers are sold in the guise of green fireworks.”
Deputy superintendent of police (DSP), CM’s flying squad, Inderjeet Yadav. said they have stepped enforcement of the ban this year. “No arrest has been made so far but we are conducting surprise checks,” he said.
One person who got caught by police was Rahul Mehta, a resident of Lajpat Nagar, who said he bought firecrackers worth ₹10,000 on Monday but was caught by Delhi Police at the border. “For me, Diwali has to have fireworks. Bursting firecrackers is auspicious and we are ready to pay the price for violating the ban,” he said, adding that he visited Gadoli again on Thursday to buy more fireworks.
Mohit Juneja, a resident of Shashtri Nagar in Delhi, said the prices of crackers are high this year. “Last year, there was an increase of 20% in prices and this year it has again increased by another 15%. Buying firecrackers is an expensive affair but it is more of a competition in the colony and so we have buy them.We all spend more than ₹10 lakh each Diwali on firecrackers,” he said.
DC Yadav said, “We are keeping a close watch to ensure that no one is selling banned firecrackers. The bursting of firecrackers adversely affects the air quality as firecrackers release dangerous toxins, harmful chemicals and noxious gases when burned. Only green or environmentally safe crackers are allowed; everything else is banned.”