Diwali revellers look set to burst toxics this Thursday with merchants providing doorstep deliveries of fireworks in a contemptuous defiance of a Supreme Court ban in the National Capital Region, an India Today TV investigation has found. Loud explosions, symphonies of sky-splitting shots have been a hallmark of the festival of lights for generations.
But fumes from Diwali celebrations last year worsened air quality in the NCR so much so that authorities had to shut down schools, power stations and construction sites for several days in the region. The country's top court this month banned the sale of crackers in and around Delhi till November 1 in a bid to prevent a repeat of the 2016 air pollution, the worst the national Capital recorded in 20 years.
The India Today TV investigation found a number of merchants brazenly violating the restrictions, using ingenious ways to supply fireworks in the NCR. On the face of it, retail cracker shops are locked down and wholesale units sealed at leading fireworks hubs in Delhi and its neighbourhoods. India Today TV's undercover teams, however, broke through the facade, discovering underground markets of firecrackers engaged in unregulated sales.
At Farrukh Nagar in Ghaziabad, a wholesale merchant called Sajid was found to be doing brisk business behind-thescenes after turning his home into a fireworks warehouse. "My fireworks godown is sealed. I'll deliver it from my home, brother," he told the investigative reporters. "Where have you stored the cartons?" probed one of the journalists. "At home, outside. I will supply them in the car. You'll count them and pay me up. That's all. Almost everything is available. I'll give you fountains, sparkles, ground spinners, Roman candles, 'Ravan bombs'. I will show you whatever is available, if you like," Sajid replied. He offered home delivery of fireworks at a nominal charge.
"I am responsible for police if they say anything here. You just bring your car. I am responsible. If you find it hard, give me Rs 1,500 extra and we will deliver it to your doorstep," said Sajid. Sumit, a wholesaler of crackers at Sonipat along the Delhi-Haryana border, was not only selling fireworks from his large warehouse, he also gave free trials to his customers. "If you have any doubts, you can burst them right across the road," he said, pointing to his stocks. He also disclosed how he was shipping consignments of crackers within the NCR.
"I am telling you that if you book an order for Rs 30,000-40,000, I will deliver it in my own car," said Sumit. Union environment minister Harsh Vardhan sidestepped INDIA TODAY TV's questions on traders stealthily selling firecrackers. Beating the ban appeared to be no big deal for the jugaad mechanics in the fireworks business. At a leather goods store in Old Delhi's Sadar Bazaar, two of them displayed footage of their combustible products streaming live from inside their closed fireworks shop. Merchants Manu and Pravesh guaranteed instant deliveries on demand. "Where do you want to take it," asked Manu.
"Noida. Sector 62," replied the reporter. "If you like, it can be delivered to Sector 62," Manu said. The two then gave a breakdown of their wholesale pricing, product-wise. "The price is fixed for every 100 pieces. It's Rs 450, Rs 550, Rs 900. Rockets are priced in the range of Rs 1,200, Rs 1,500 and Rs 2,200, depending on the variety, lights, sound and the number of explosions. Fireworks rolls are available in the packing of 100, 200 and 300," explained Pravesh.
At the counter of a festive-decor shop, a trader, Shiva, could be seen carrying out underhanded sales of fireworks, offering large quantities for bulk consumption. "I have local and branded items, Coronation and Murga. We'll give you whatever you want," he claimed. He wanted all payment in cash. "Payment has to be made here. You have to pay one (lakh rupees) in advance and balance after the delivery," Shiva said