Delhi government’s blanket ban on sale and storage of firecrackers has left traders in Sadar Bazaar in a lurch. While some are looking for alternative markets, others face ruin
If the whole sale market of Old Delhi’s Sadar Bazaar is anything to go by, then this Diwali the city may be more about the lights than firecrackers. The narrow streets packed with shoppers and shops, bullock carts, and rickshaws, is a hair-raising experience, but one which has failed to remain quiet despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
With the Delhi government having imposed a complete ban on storage, sale and use of all types of firecrackers on September 15, shopkeepers are banking on selling string lights and plastic flowers, and perhaps to make up for the ban on firecrackers, a few selling fake, plastic guns.
Diwali is just days away, on November 4, and while there will be some who will not be happy with the ban, many others support it as Delhi’s air quality severely deteriorates after Diwali. For the retailers, it’s about fighting for the attention of customers with their brightly decorated shops.
The president of the Federation of Sadar Bazaar Traders Association, Rakesh Kumar Yadav says it’s the small-time traders which have been the most affected by the ban. “Any order by the government has to be followed, and we as an association say to do so. But there are many small retailers who have taken loans to buy these firecrackers. Some have given jewellery, others even their homes as collateral and then the government decides to end their business”, less than two months before Diwali.
Yadav, in his late 50’s now, has seen the largest wholesale market in Old Delhi go through its wave of changes. He says that the bigger players who earlier traded in firecrackers found different things to sell, but the smaller ones were left without a choice. Even now, he says what has happened is that vendors placed the orders to big wholesalers in January of this year itself. “The order was placed, money was paid, and by the time the delivery was done the government decided on the ban. This has ruined people’s livelihoods.”
“Many are trying to sell their stock in the National capital region like Ghaziabad and Gurgaon, but there are many others whose stock are just lying in godowns. This is not just a complete loss for them but also a fire hazard. Government must not make this mistake again of providing no time to sellers”.
The Delhi police on November 2 said it has till now caught 26 people and registered 23 cases against them for storing, selling and using firecrackers. The ban has reportedly not stopped them from procuring the items at a lower price from Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
Most of those caught were vendors and sellers engaged in the business of firecrackers, caught while illegally getting them transported from adjoining states.
As Yadav had mentioned, the police say these firecrackers are stored illegally in huge quantities in markets including Sadar Bazar, Chandni Chowk, Paharganj and Karol Bagh, and then sold for higher prices.
Recently, two persons, both from Uttar Pradesh, were found on the intervening night of October 25-26 with 591.95 kg of firecrackers from Sadar Bazar area.
The two, were bringing firecrackers from UP’s Hapur and were caught when police intercepted the men during their patrolling. When questioned, according to a PTI report, they told police that the vehicles contained household items. “With their behaviour raising suspicion, the vehicle was checked and it was found loaded with firecrackers, said Sagar Singh Kalsi, Deputy Commissioner of Police (North).”
The other arrests included one in Northwest Delhi’s Subhash Place and another in Mahindra Park area where over 300 kg of firecrackers were seized.
Then on Friday, October 29, a Noida shopkeeper was arrested from Hazrat Nizamuddin area with 21.7 kg of firecrackers in his vehicle.
In Rohini a seizure of more than 1,174 kg of firecrackers from three sellers in the area was made. In north Delhi approximately 500 kg of firecrackers were recovered where vendors stored illegal firecrackers procured from UP at godowns in areas of Sadar Bazaar to sell them at higher prices.
Yadav wants the Delhi government to also allow traders who have stocked up firecrackers to send their stock out of Delhi “at least they won’t be ruined then. But currently if they take the stock out and police find them, they will be in trouble. Vendors are in a desperate state.”
But it will be harder to sell their products now that Haryana government on October 31 banned sale and use of firecrackers in its 14 NCR districts – Bhiwani, Charkhi Dadri, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Jhajjar, Jind, Karnal, Mahendragarh, Nuh, Palwal, Panipat, Rewari, Rohtak and Sonipat.
On the same day as the announcement, Gurgaon had seen its PM 2.5 levels reach a “very unhealthy” number of 234. At the same time, in Delhi’s Dwarka the PM 2.5 levels reached 272 and PM 10 levels reached the “hazardous” level of 999.
As night fell on Sadar Bazaar, the streets lit up with hues of orange, blues and pinks. Traders pushed their wares on the steady stream of customers, in the short distance sounds of firecrackers bursting at random.