Diwali without firecrackers is like ′Christmas without Christmas trees′ | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 18.10.2017
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Diwali without firecrackers is like 'Christmas without Christmas trees'

As India celebrates the Hindu festival of Diwali, marked by bursting firecrackers and lighting lamps, the ban on fireworks in Delhi has cast a dark shadow on traders. Some say it will take out fun from the festival.

Deepak Jain, a fireworks trader at the wholesale market in Delhi's Sadar Bazaar, says he has yet to come to grips with the temporary ban on fireworks in India's National Capital Region (NCR). "What will I do? I have spent over 20 million rupees (€260,000, $306,000) buying crackers from distributors. What will happen to this stock now? I won't be able to sell it," Jain laments.

The ban was imposed last week by the Indian Supreme Court citing air pollution and will remain in place until November 1. It came just ahead of the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, on October 19, which millions of Indians across the country celebrate by letting off firecrackers.

The restriction aims to prevent a repeat of last year's situation when pollutants released by millions of firecrackers forced school closures, affecting thousands of children.

Watch video 00:59

New Delhi engulfed by toxic fog

Diwali festivities every year leave the capital region engulfed by a toxic cloud of smoke and hazardous levels of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) - small particles that pose the greatest threat to lungs.

Fuming traders

Since the top court issued its order to prevent toxic pollution of the air, though, reactions have been mixed.

While supporters of the ban hope the decision will keep air pollution from reaching the levels it did last year, opponents feel they have been needlessly targeted as it has burned a big hole in their pockets.

Pradeep Kaushal, a retailer in the city's Mangolpuri area, is looking desperately to hive off his stock of fireworks, which are stored in a warehouse.

"Why target fireworks? Is Diwali complete without it? There are other pollutants which affect the capital's air. This is going to affect thousands of us in the business," fumed Kaushal, a trader for over two decades. He likened the court ruling to banning Christmas trees on Christmas Day.

Read more: 'Make in India' policy could increase air pollution woes

Thousands of dealers across the Indian capital had purchased stocks in anticipation, but it has now turned into a major loss. Traders say that due to the ban, the entire supply chain - from manufacturers to the retailer - faces financial losses.

According to the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a trade body comprising 40,000 organizations and 60 million traders across the country, fireworks worth 4 billion to 5 billion rupees (€65 million) had been procured by firecracker sellers in Delhi and the NCR through legal licensing for Diwali.

"The livelihoods of millions of people, right from a daily wage earner to a retailer, depend on this fireworks and crackers business. It is absolutely unfair that it has been banned in this festive season," Rajesh Kalia, a trader who challenged the ban, told DW. The court, however, refused to lift the suspension.

Tough task

Due to the ban, Delhi's police have suspended around 400 licenses, both permanent and temporary, that were issued to traders and shopkeepers selling firecrackers in the capital. But officials say execution of the court's order has been difficult as there is a ban only on the sale, but not on the bursting of fireworks.

"Implementation of the ban on the sale of firecrackers will be difficult for Delhi's police as thousands of shops are set up in narrow lanes of the capital around the time of Diwali. We also know that nearby towns and states around Delhi are being used to bring in fireworks," Dependra Pathak, a special commissioner of police, told DW.

Read more: Study: Pollution shortening lives of 660 million Indians

Businesses say the move has led to the smuggling of fireworks into the region, although the surreptitious sale of crackers has led to a crackdown on traders in many parts of the city over the past week. Six traders have so far been arrested and even two policemen have been suspended for colluding with shopkeepers selling fireworks.

Special police teams have been deployed at transit points along Delhi's border with the adjoining states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh so that fireworks don't make their way to big and licensed shops in the capital.

But the cleanup may just be the tip of the iceberg as many small shop owners and traders have found ingenious ways to smuggle in crackers. To escape the police net, many small-scale traders who had purchased stock are selling it from their homes or otherwise ensuring home delivery for their customers.

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"It will be difficult to control smuggling. They are being sold illegally at a much higher price and, more importantly, these illegally procured crackers are unsafe too," said Devraj Baweja, president of the Delhi Traders Association.

Even some environmental campaigners appear not to be in favor of the ban. "It is not as if people won't burst crackers. The intensity might come down but the air will still be polluted. So what is the point of this ban? Does it really serve a purpose?" argues Manju Menon, an environmentalist.

Toxic pollution

India's capital ranks among the most polluted cities in the world, with the city frequently enveloped by alarmingly high levels of toxic air. As a result, air pollution in Delhi has become a major public policy issue over the past several years.

A high vehicle population, unchecked construction and road dust, and garbage burning are some of the causes of this pollution.

To deal with the problem, Delhi on Tuesday adopted a so-called Graded Response Action Plan, which comprises a series of antipollution measures that include closing schools on days when pollution spikes to hazardous levels. It has been designed on the lines of antipollution plans in cities like Beijing.

But as to what impact the ban of firework sales will have on Delhi's air quality, the jury is still out.

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