While rains, slowdown-induced cash crunch, and the Supreme Court order to sell only green crackers dampened firecracker sales, Diwali celebrations this year lit up Indian skies with more colour but with less noise. While total sales were down by at least 20-30 per cent when compared to last year, sound cracker sales this year were only half of what they were in the previous year, industry sources told Business Today.
The traders said production was less during this year, confusion over green crackers, unseasonal and extended monsoon until Diwali and delay in providing licenses contributed to the fall in sales.
"We have to get permission from District Superintendent of Police office, fire brigade, forensic science department and municipal corporation to get a license to sell crackers and every year this is done in the last minute. This year we got the permission less than ten days before and what can we sell in this short period," said Nilesh Agarwal of Phataka Welfare Association.
Until a few years ago, the domestic firecracker market used to sell 90 per cent of its merchandise during the Diwali season. Crackers were gaining demand in recent years during other regional festivals, religious festivities, marriage season and special occasions like elections. Firecrackers are mainly manufactured in Tamil Nadu's Sivakasi town as a cottage industry, which has over 1,000 licensed manufacturers which employ over 10 lakh people. Industry sources said firecrackers are also made in some parts of Rajasthan, Maharashtra and West Bengal, where rainfall is very less.
In October last year, the Supreme Court had banned sale of crackers that are not 'green', that is firecrackers with noise levels exceeding 145dB. Manufacturers were directed to get approval from the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO). The crackers also had to be free of mercury, arsenic and barium. After Diwali last year, the units in Sivakasi were closed for more than five months. Then the unseasonal rains also halted production.
"Actually speaking, may be less than one per cent of the crackers sold in this season conforms to green crackers," said a wholesaler. India Today recently reported that only less than half a dozen manufacturers in Sivakasi were able to get the PESO certification this year. A wholesaler said many of the packets he received were actually produced months before and were not green crackers. Other than a PESO certification on packets, there were no mechanism for most of the authorities or police to identify green crackers.
"Normally products after Diwali starts to reach the wholesalers from March, and by Diwali next season, they will be ready for distribution. This year, rains caused problems in many areas in the country closer to the festival," said Hemanth Agarwal. Normally wholesalers keep their stocks in safe and waterproof 'magazines', anticipating the next big sales during Deewali.
Traders say main trend this year was that people were informed about green cracker norms, and were moving away from sound crackers, like bombs, to colourful firecrackers, like flowerpots (anaar), sparklers and such . If the share of sound crackers and light crackers were equal the in previous years, the latter constituted 70 per cent of the sales this year.
"Mumbai-Thane region used to sell crackers worth Rs 300 crore during the festival season. Sales are at least 30 per cent less than what it was during the last year. It seems to be the same everywhere, at least in Maharashtra," said Navin Chandra, president of Mumbai-Thane Fireworks Association. Maharashtra has some 6,000 wholesalers and sub-dealers selling crackers during the season.
"My sales were only 25 per cent of what it was last year," said MK Shah, a fireworks wholesaler in Mumbai. Nilesh Agarwal, secretary of Phataka Welfare Association in Pune said the association has about 25 wholesale dealers and initial feedback says at least 40 per cent of the stocks remain unsold. Hemanth Agarwal of Agarwal Fireworks in Pune said his sales were at least 20 per cent down this year.