On October 23, the Supreme Court imposed restrictions on the use and sale of firecrackers in an attempt to control rising levels of air pollution across India – particularly in Delhi and the National Capital Region. The court allowed only a two-hour window during which crackers could be burst. It said that crackers could only be sold by vendors with proper licences and it banned online sales. The court also said only “green” crackers that are low on emissions and noise would be allowed.
On Wednesday night, though, Twitter users across the country complained that the deadline had been violated.
In Mumbai, a Twitter user posted an image from the Marine Drive promenade.
Guwahati didn’t fare much better.
Delhi seemed to be especially noisy.
In the run-up to Diwali and on Diwali day on Wednesday, Scroll.in reporters in four cities – Mumbai, Chennai, Guwahati and Delhi – went out to see how the police had fared in implementing the Supreme Court restricting cracker sales.
Mumbai: Empty shelves
In Mumbai, a week after the court order, wholesale and retail firecracker sales were booming, with enthusiastic customers thronging the firecracker hub on Mohammed Ali Road in South Mumbai on Wednesday, hours before the court-mandated period for bursting crackers between 8 pm and 10 pm came into effect.
Empty shelves greeted customers at Essabhai Fireworks, one of the oldest firecracker wholesalers in Mumbai, which had reduced its purchase orders by around 25% to 30% after the court’s order. “Our main business happens in the 10 days after Dussehra,” said Abdullah Ghia, director of the shop. “Since the Supreme Court order came in this period, we reduced our orders from manufacturers.”
According to Ghia, firecracker sales have been steadily declining in Mumbai over the last five to six years after sustained education campaigns about the problems they cause. He said sales to his upper-class customers have declined by 50% and to his middle-class customers by 30%.
Minesh Mehta, proprietor of J Devidas and Co down the road, also had empty shelves in his shop, and anticipated that even his godown stocks would be cleared this year. “There was an impact for around two to three days until October 26, but once there was clarity, our customers picked up again,” Mehta said. “We are not sure what will happen next year as the Supreme Court has banned barium in firecrackers, which is present in 90% of firecrackers made today.”
But Lakhan Sharma, a street vendor who has operated two fireworks shops in the area for decades, said that his business has doubled after the Supreme Court ban, as wholesale traders reduced their stocks. He actually managed to increase his prices. Sharma was selling long sparklers for Rs 300 a box – though these were available at half that price in Mehta’s wholesale shop.
“The ban will affect manufacturers more than us and the effects will be seen only next year,” said Ghia. “This year at least, our stocks will sell out.”
While the Maharashtra police has not yet begun to compile data on cases filed relating to the Supreme Court order, at least one case was recorded by Right to Information activist Shakeel Ahmed Shaikh in Mumbai in the early hours of November 7 at Mankhurd. This case was booked under sections of Indian Penal Code related to disobeying an order given by a public servant.
Chennai: Business down
In Chennai, firecracker retailers reported that business had dipped by over 40% on Diwali day. Anburaj, a cracker retailer in Perungudi, said that he had sold crackers worth Rs 50,000 on Diwali last year. “But, this year we could get only Rs 5,000,” he said, adding that people were reluctant to purchase from retail stores because of the higher prices.
K Ajit, another retailer, said that the time restriction for bursting crackers was possibly one of the reasons people have not been purchasing crackers. “Though the price of crackers was high last year too, we were able to sell them fast,” he said. “We have not done even 20% of business.”
Revellers in Tamil Nadu were permitted to burst crackers in two time slots – between 6 am and 7 am, and 7 pm to 8 pm. At least 2,100 cases have been registered across the state, and more than 600 persons arrested and released immediately, for bursting crackers beyond these slots. According to a senior police official in Chennai, the state capital had the highest number of cases registered – 344. This was followed by Villupuram where 160 cases were registered. Nearly 135 cases were registered in Virudhunagar and Tirunelveli.
The cases have been filed under sections of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to disobeying orders promulgated by public servant, negligent conduct with respect to fire and explosive substances, and for being a public nuisance.
V Vasudevan, 37, a taxi driver in Chennai, was unhappy with the restrictions imposed by the court. He said that his family saved up Rs 700 every month through the year as a Deepavali fund to buy crackers and other festival goodies during the festive season. “We get a box with 30 different crackers, a box of sweets, rice, tamarind,” he said. “This comes as a gift to us every year.”
He said that his family had already paid for their crackers by the time the Supreme Court passed its order. “How is it possible to implement an order that restricts the time of bursting crackers?” asked Vasudevan. “How will the police check every street, whether people are bursting crackers beyond the stipulated time? It is completely wrong to book cases against the public.”
The leaders of Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam have demanded that cases booked against people who violated the time slot rule be withdrawn immediately.
Delhi: Crackdown on sales
In Delhi, many took to Twitter on Wednesday night to express their alarm at firecrackers exploding around them long after the deadline had passed.
But before that, the police attempted to curtail the sale of crackers. Records show that 29 cases were registered and 28 persons arrested till November 6 for selling firecrackers without a licence. The police seized a total of 3,700 kg of firecrackers. The largest quantity was seized from West Delhi (1,688 kg), followed by Shahdara zone in North East Delhi (1,046 kg), and then North Delhi (659 kg). The accused were booked under sections of the Indian Explosives Act.
Till Tuesday, only one person in Delhi had been booked bursting firecrackers in violation of the Supreme Court order. The accused has not been arrested yet. The man, a resident of East Delhi’s Mayur Vihar Phase 3, had burst crackers outside his neighbour’s door on Friday.
The first information report against 32-year-old Damandeep showed he had been charged under a section of the Indian Penal Code in which a person who disobeys an order promulgated by a public servant can be imprisoned for up to a month. Some police officials, who requested anonymity, admitted there was confusion over what sections should be invoked in the case, and that the investigating officer had taken the final decision after consulting his senior colleagues.
Damandeep told the police that he had burst old crackers he had at home, said Deputy Commissioner of Police (East Delhi) Pankaj Singh. “But that does not make any difference in light of the Supreme Court order,” Singh said. “It is believed to be the first such case in the country. The accused has signed a bond saying he will appear before the investigating officer and the court as and when asked.”
Guwahati: Sales normal
In Assam’s capital Guwahati, most firecracker retailers said the Supreme Court order had not affected their business. “As you can see, I personally have not been affected at all,” said Ratul Bhattacharya, pointing towards the fast-depleting stocks in his store. “It has been like any other year. In fact, the market seems to be better this year.”
Bhattacharya even praised the court order, saying it had streamlined the business. “Now that the court has listed out a specific time period for sale and transport of crackers, we are not being unnecessarily harassed by the police,” he said. “Earlier it used to be a pain transporting crackers.”
Pinku Das, another retailer, also claimed to be unaffected by the court order. “Sales have been quite normal,” he said. Indeed, Das’ store was buzzing with customers on Wednesday evening, barley two hours prior to the court-prescribed deadline of 10 pm.
In another part of the city, Kandarpa Das, however, complained that sales had plummeted by “at least 30%”. “People who bought stuff worth Rs 2,000 last year have hardly bought for Rs 700,” he said. “Most of my stock is still lying here.”
Assam police chief Kula Saikia said no one from the state had been arrested or booked as of Wednesday evening for violating the Supreme Court order.