Festivities appear to have peaked in the capital's wholesale market Sadar Bazaar, colourful, glittering and all lit up ahead of Diwali, but it is almost impossible to find any firecrackers. Delhi's air quality plummeting to dangerous levels around Diwali every year, the Supreme Court in 2018 banned polluting firecrackers and ordered that only green firecrackers, which cause 30 per cent less pollution, can be manufactured and sold. Narendra Gupta, president of the Sadar Bazaar fireworks and general traders association, said only 12 people applied for licences 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 is 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.
A Delhi Police official said temporary licences have been issued to 60 merchants for selling the firecrackers. 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 CSIR-NEERI developed new formulations for reduced emission light and sound emitting crackers (SWAS, SAFAL, STAR) with 30 per cent reduction in particulate matter using Potassium Nitrate (KNO3) as oxidant.
According to the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (CSIR-NEERI), green crackers are those that are "made with reduction in size of shell, elimination of ash usage, reduced usage of raw materials in the compositions of uniform acceptable quality and use of additives such as dust suppressants to reduce emissions with specific reference to particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide".
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).
For instance, a new formulation of light-emitting cracker named 'STAR Z' uses 32 per cent potassium nitrate, 40 per cent aluminum powder, 11 per cent aluminum chips, and 17 per cent proprietary additives to reduce Particulate Matter (PM) 10 and PM2.5 to 30 per cent.
Similarly, a new formulation of sound emitting cracker named 'SWAS' uses 72 per cent proprietary additive, 16 pert cent potassium nitrate oxidiser, 9 per cent aluminum powder, and 3 per cent Sulphur to reduce PM10 and PM2.5 to 30 per cent.
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 lacked fire safety measures.
However, there were a few shops in the centre of the market that were selling 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 nearby Jama Masjid market, several 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.
"There's only 'anaar' (flowerpot) and 'phuljhari' (sparklers) so far, that too are hard to come by. There is a lack of variety and the stock is limited," said a shopkeeper.
A proprietor at Majestic fireworks alleged "there's 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," the merchant said. "Sit here for 10 minutes and see for yourself. The sales this year have been the worst since I started this (business)," a proprietor at Premji Fireworks said when asked about the customers' response to green crackers.
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.