With Diwali around the corner, sparkler boxes stocked at shops in Old Delhi boldly declare: “Now green revolution”. Inside the boxes are firecrackers that are believed to be less polluting than regular ones, which has earned them the label “green firecrackers”.

But shopkeepers said there were fewer takers for them. The only reason they have stocked the green firecrackers, they said, was because of a Supreme Court order.

In October 2018, the Supreme Court had banned the sale and use of regular firecrackers, mandating that only green firecrackers be allowed to be sold in the markets. This was done to avoid a spike in air pollution, which was already touching hazardous levels.

However, coming just weeks ahead of Diwali, the 2018 order left cracker merchants furious, since they were saddled with unsold stocks of regular firecrackers. Besides, they complained that it was hard to source green firecrackers at short notice.

One year later, the supply chain of green firecrackers has vastly improved, but the merchants are still unhappy. They say customers continue to ask for the banned firecrackers, even though they have put up notices outside their shops clearly stating that they did not sell them.

On Tuesday morning, Janaki Das, a firecracker shop owner in Jama Masjid, had turned down at least five customers who asked for banned crackers. Another trader, Amit Jain of Ajit Fireworks in Jama Masjid, claimed the customers he turned away ended up going to nearby towns where the banned firecrackers were still available.

“They do not mind spending Rs 1000 extra on fuel,” he said. “They go to NCR, purchase banned crackers for Rs 10,000 and burst them in Delhi.”

Experts attribute the customer aversion to green firecrackers to a lack of awareness. They claim the light and sound emitted by these firecrackers is comparable to the banned ones. All that is different is the levels of toxicity.

These crackers have a quick response code and a stamp certifying them as "green crackers". (Photo credit: Vijayta Lalwani)

Benefits of green crackers

Regular firecrackers contain barium nitrate which is known to be a hazardous substance for the respiratory system. The Supreme Court’s 2018 order led the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute in Delhi to develop firecrackers without barium nitrate.

The institute defines green crackers as those made from materials which are “dust suppressants” – or materials which reduce particulate matter emissions. Particulate matter consists of hazardous solid and liquid particles suspended in the air.

Green crackers also include a material called zeolite, said Sadhana Rayalu, a chief scientist at the institute. Zeolite is an absorbent, highly oxidised material that when ignited, undergoes an exothermic reaction, which means it releases energy in the form of heat or light.

“We chose this material because it is not toxic and less harmful to come in contact with,” she said. “The emissions from this compared to a regular firecracker came down by 30%.”

These newly developed crackers include Safe Water Releaser, Safe Minimal Aluminium Cracker and Safe Thermite Cracker. The additives in Safe Water Releaser give out water, air and dust suppressants while Safe Minimal Aluminium minimises the use of aluminium, potassium nitrate and sulphur. Safe Thermite Cracker is based on a combination of metals, including aluminium, and metal oxides like iron oxides to produce heat.

The firecrackers go to the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation for approval once the manufacturers sign a memorandum of understanding with the National Environmental and Engineering Institute to receive the formula.

According to the institute, nearly 230 memorandums and 165 non-disclosure agreements have been signed with manufacturers. Twenty-eight manufacturers have received approvals from the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation. Most of these manufacturers are based in Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

The packaging of these crackers contains a quick response code and a stamp that states that have been certified by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and National Environmental Engineering Research Institute.

Traders had put notices outside their shops stating that they did not sell banned firecrackers. (Photo credit: Vijayta Lalwani)

Supply bottlenecks

Several manufacturing units in the country, however, were yet to adopt the National Environmental and Engineering Institute’s formula for green firecrackers.

In Sivakasi, the firecracker industry hub in Tamil Nadu, some manufacturers alleged that the institute asked them to sign a pact and pay a fee starting at Rs 10,000, depending on the size of the unit, Business Standard reported.

The report also stated that manufacturers felt there was a conflict of interest since the institute develops the raw materials and is also the agency that certifies pollution standards for firecrackers.

Traders in Delhi complained that supplies from Sivakasi were running late. “We gave an advance of Rs 1 lakh and the stock has not yet arrived,” said Sonam Chawla, a trader in West Delhi’s Model Basti area. “For the last three days, not a single vehicle has come to us with the crackers.”

Another trader said he was unable to meet the demand of retailers who wanted to purchase green firecrackers. In a day, his supplier sent him only around 12 cartons that would be sold within a few hours. “The supply is only 10% of demand,” said Amit Jain of Ajit Fireworks in Jama Masjid.