NEW DELHI – Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, will be celebrated in India on Sunday, but a dark cloud has engulfed the country’s fireworks industry ahead of the festivities.
“We have been earning our livelihood by selling crackers for generations. But not any more. We are now looking for other ways to earn our bread and butter,” Chitreshwar Srivastav, an owner of one of the oldest firecracker stores in New Delhi, told EFE.
Millions of merrymakers ignite firecrackers and sparklers on the night of Diwali and days before, adding thick fumes and smoke to an already toxic air in the country that has 13 of the world’s 20 cities with the highest annual levels of pollution.
To curb the public health disaster, India’s top court last year imposed restrictions on firecrackers, allowing people to use them for two hours only between 8 pm and 10 pm on Diwali.
The Supreme Court also banned the production and sale of firecrackers in the country and ruled that only “green” crackers that cause lower emissions of particulate matter and other harmful fumes would be allowed to be sold.
Crackers certified as green come with QR codes on their packages to indicate less nitrogen and sulfur emissions. Such crackers also do not exceed the 120-decibel sound limit set by the top court.
The green alternative was developed by the state-run National Environmental Engineering Research Institute earlier this year, but production is yet to meet the market demand.
The ban has almost sounded a death knell for India’s fireworks industry that employs an estimated 800,000 people during the peak festival seasons.
According to a report by influential English daily Business Standard, the industry is staring at a loss of about Rs 8 billion (nearly $110 million) in the run-up to Diwali this year as the government enforces the Supreme Court order.
Fireworks traders at a marketplace in the Indian capital of Delhi mostly showed grim faces, with the racks of their shops only half-filled.
They complained that there were not enough stock of the environment-friendly crackers to supply and whatever they had would be sold off immediately, drastically reducing their business hours as well as their earnings.
“We have about 100 to 150 kg of stock fireworks right now. It will be sold off in a couple of hours. We don’t even have enough stock to run the shop a whole day,” said Srivastav, who is the sixth generation owner of the family’s store set up in 1875 at the once crowded Pai Walan road of an old Delhi neighborhood.
He said he has never seen his business plummet so low.
“We don’t get the kind of crackers for which there is a demand. Kids like loud crackers, but there is not enough stock,” he said, adding that cracker sellers now sell other festival-related items like plastic flowers and light sets to make up for the losses.
Implementing the court’s decision on the ground has been difficult, but Delhi Police say they have seized large caches of banned crackers in the capital ahead of the festival.
“We are checking at the manufacturing units and all selling points across Delhi. We have seized a large number of crackers so far,” said Asif Mohammad Ali, deputy commissioner of police.
Pollution levels cross harmful limits in the national capital every year with the beginning of the winter season.
With the air quality in the capital already plummeting, the Delhi government has come up with measures such as community cracker bursting and laser light shows as an alternative to fireworks.
But for many fireworks lovers, a cracker that doesn’t make loud sound is not worth it. Many of them are not even bothering to know if they are purchasing green crackers or not.
“Bursting crackers is our tradition. How else will we celebrate Diwali,” asked Neeraja, a buyer in the fireworks marketplace.