SC firecracker ban: How it will impact Delhi air, shopkeepers this Diwali

A closed firecracker shop at Sadar Bazar in New Delhi on Monday. Photo: Sanjay K Sharma
Delhiites might get to enjoy a relatively cleaner Diwali this year as the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that there will be no sale of firecrackers in Delhi and the National Capital Region during Diwali, as it restored a November 2016 order banning the sale and stocking of firecrackers there. 

However, while the decision might come as a relief for the residents of the region, shopkeepers and sellers are sure to feel the pinch given how late the order has come with Diwali falling on October 19 this year. Given the date, the order effectively means that no firecrackers will be available for purchase before the festival.

The apex court's order spread like the proverbial wildfire through wholesale markets in Delhi on Monday, uniting shopkeepers big and small in their anger and dismay. With losses running into crores, their Diwali was going up in smoke, said shopkeepers in Sadar Bazar and Jama Masjid, two of the biggest cracker markets in the city.

Will Delhi's air get cleaner?

Diwali fireworks had lit up the skyline of Delhi on the night of October 30 last year, but darkness had descended the morning after as a dense blanket of smog turned the city into a chamber of noxious and cancer-causing pollutants.

With the Supreme Court banning the sale of firecrackers in the Delhi-NCR till November 1, can Delhiites breathe a sigh of relief?
Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan welcomed the apex court's order and urged people to abide by the SC guidelines and "give green Diwali and our environment a chance".

Experts, welcoming the apex court's order, cautioned that while firecrackers cause episodic spikes in levels of air pollutants, what is needed is a sustained focus on tackling the menace.

"It is a welcome move. The air of Delhi is anyway saturated with pollutants at this time of the season as paddy stubble burning starts and temperature drops. Diwali fireworks only compound the problem," Bhure Lal, chairman, Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) said.

Going by the prevailing conditions, wherein the air quality is already 'very poor' in many parts of the city, the situation may spiral out of control if firecrackers are set off indiscriminately during Diwali, according to SAFAR.

However, the 24-hour average AQI (air quality index) is 'poor', a shade better than 'very poor', it said.

A "very poor" AQI essentially means that people may suffer from respiratory illness on prolonged exposure to such air. On further dip in air quality, the AQI will turn "severe".

A dark Diwali for shopkeepers

While for some this Diwali will be free of noise and smoke, for others such as Harjeet Singh and more than 1,000 big and small business owners in the capital, this festive season will be quite dark.

As reported earlier, left dumbfounded by the Supreme Court’s sudden ban on the sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR, Singh and several firecracker sellers like him have lost all hope of recovering their money.

(Read our full report on how the SC order has hit cracker sellers hard)

In the heart of one of the largest wholesale markets in the country, New Delhi’s Sadar Bazaar, more than 1,000 people involved with the firecracker industry are looking at loss of seasonal business as well as revenue of more than Rs 700 crore. The firecrackers market in Delhi-NCR is Rs 2,000 crore.

Singh, who had last week applied for a licence to sell firecrackers during the festive season, is staring at a financial loss of more than Rs 6 lakh. But that is not his biggest concern. He does not know how to dispose his cracker stockpile. “Why did the police issue us licences in the first place? Now what will I do with the tonnes of crackers I have at my shop? I cannot even sell them to a supplier in another city as transporting them is banned,” said Singh, also the general secretary of the Sadar Bazaar Fireworks Association.

The news travelled fast in the narrow bylanes of the two markets in the Old City with shops piled high with crackers of all kinds, ranging from sparklers selling for about Rs 20 a stick to powerful bombs going up to Rs 1,000 and more. (Read more here)

"All dealers across NCR have been affected. The ban was imposed in 2016 last year and was lifted temporarily around 20 days back. Now, what will we do with the old stock? Crackers worth crores will go waste," said Amit Jain, who sells firecrackers in Jama Masjid. 

Delhi BJP leader to distribute crackers among slum kids

A BJP leader on Monday said he would distribute firecrackers among the children living in the slums in Delhi, claiming that the act would not violate the Supreme Court order. (Read more here)

Delhi BJP spokesman Tejinder Singh Bagga said he would distribute firecrackers among the children living in the slums in the Hari Nagar Assembly constituency on Diwali. 

"I have a plan to buy firecrackers worth Rs 50,000 and give them to the children living in the slums of Hari Nagar, so that they can celebrate Diwali," he said. "It will not be a violation or defamation of the Supreme Court order, because the court has only banned the sale of firecrackers. It has not put a ban on buying or bursting them," Bagga added.

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