Delhi is headed for a dull Diwali this year due to a shortage in supply of green firecrackers amid a strict ban on the regular ones with high pollution level.
The few sellers who can be found selling green firecrackers, only have 'anaar' (flowerpot) and 'phuljhari' (sparklers). Shopkeepers and buyers alike are complaining about the lack of variety and high price of the green crackers as compared to conventional firecrackers.
Festivities appear to have peaked in the capital's wholesale market Sadar Bazar, but it is almost impossible to find any firecrackers.
With Delhi's air quality plummeting to dangerous levels around Diwali every year, the Supreme Court in 2018 banned polluting firecrackers. It ordered that only green firecrackers, which cause 30 per cent less pollution, can be manufactured and sold.
The national capital's air quality has already deteriorated. On Wednesday, air quality was recorded in the 'poor' category as the air brings in smoke from stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana.
Narendra Gupta, president of the Sadar Bazaar fireworks and general traders association, said only 12 people applied for licences to sell this time out of which seven got the licences this week in the bazaar, which is also the city's largest wholesale market for firecrackers.
"Earlier, around 80 licensed merchants would sell firecrackers. There aren't enough green crackers and varieties in the market. The sales are low. No one is ready to take the risk," he said.
There's a shortage of supply as only less than 30 manufacturers, including Standard Fireworks, Balaji Fireworks, Vinayaga Industries, and Coronation Fireworks, across India have got the licence to manufacture green crackers, according to officials.
"We expect that the green crackers will be available in the market in enough quantity next year, which will also bring their cost down," Gupta said.
Launched in early October by Union Minister for Health, Science and Technology, Harsh Vardhan, green crackers have been developed by a gamut of laboratories led by CSIR-NEERI's Nagpur-based lab.
The green crackers forgo the use of chemicals banned by the Supreme Court such as lead, lithium, arsenic and mercury, according to the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO).
Bittu, a shopkeeper in Sadar Bazaar, said most of the requests for licence were rejected on the grounds that shops were located in congested lanes and were lacking fire safety measures.
However, there were a few shops in the centre of the market that were selling the conventional firecrackers clandestinely.
"Try your luck. You will get everything. Just do not get caught. There is a provision of a fine of Rs 5 lakh on the seller and the customer," said 32-year-old Rajesh, who has put up a shop of decorative items such as 'diyas' and lanterns.
In the Jama Masjid market nearby, many merchants have desisted from selling firecrackers this time.
During a spot visit on Wednesday, 10-12 shops were found selling only green firecrackers, with the owners ruing a drastic dip in sales.
A proprietor at Majestic fireworks alleged that "there is a conspiracy to finish the industry".
"The crowd of customers has thinned out over the last two years. That's obvious. Why would anyone buy only 'phuljhari' and 'anaar', which are much more expensive than the conventional firecrackers. The fun of Diwali is lost," he said.
Another merchant at Vishal fireworks said, "We have been selling government-approved green firecrackers only. Despite that, there was a protest by schoolchildren here on Monday. Firecrackers, which are burst only on Diwali, are not the reason for Delhi's pollution. The government has made us scapegoats."
Ankur Garg, a buyer, said it's good that green crackers are finally available in the market, but besides finding them very costly, people do not have many options to choose from. "The green crackers are almost double the price of conventional ones," he said.