Despite the sale and purchase of firecrackers being banned in the National Capital Region (NCR), several residents of Delhi said they were worried that prohibitions would be flouted, leading to the almost inevitable annual post-Diwali air pollution spike.
The Delhi Police, for its part, said it has formed special teams and flying squads under each police station and police district to prevent the sale and bursting of crackers on Diwali, adding that they have seized nearly 3,000 firecrackers and arrested 47 persons in the past 10 days for either selling or bursting firecrackers.
The police and government crackdowns, however, did ensure that firecrackers were not being sold openly at busy markets such as Sadar Bazar and Dariba Kalan in Old Delhi. Some people were able to go about their business discreetly, and while police said they arrested many such offenders, some others slipped through the cracks.
In north-west Delhi’s Pitampura, for instance, a resident said firecrackers were being sold in some local grocery stores, and were available to customers familiar with the shopkeepers.
In north Delhi’s Sarai Rohilla, the police caught a grocer was caught with 20kg firecrackers he allegedly intended to sell from his grocery store.
“The grocer was caught with Rs 4,500 worth of firecrackers during checking at a police picket,” said Anto Alphonse, deputy commissioner of police (north).
The police said they had seized around 85kg of firecrackers across the city on Friday and arrested four men for selling them, taking the total number of such arrests to 41.
Further, three people were booked for bursting crackers on Friday.
Some residents posted videos on Twitter of firecrackers being burst.
“I’ve been hearing crackers being burst for at least two days now, and had to finally call the police in the evening,” said a 28-year-old resident of Saket, who asked not to be named.
At many markets in the southern part of the city, shopkeepers refused to even reveal any places where firecrackers could be purchased.
“The plainclothes policemen were tricking shopkeepers into revealing the identity of illegal traders. The word has gone out and no one wants to take a risk,” said a shopkeeper, Anant, in Badarpur Market.
In areas such as Mayur Vihar, IP Extension, Tughlaqabad and Sangam Vihar, while people thronged to wrap up the last-minute shopping, firecracker shops remained closed.
Sunil Kumar, 32, who sets up his vegetable cart near a firecracker shop in Mayur Vihar, said, “The shop also sell colours and other items apart from firecrackers. But the shop has been closed for three days now. Customers come enquiring about firecrackers, but to no avail. We understand the ban and the crisis, but who will explain these to our children? They want to burn firecrackers because for them, that’s what Diwali is all about.”
Harjit Singh Chabbra, general secretary of the Fire Crackers Association of Delhi, who has a licensed shop in Sadar Bazaar (one of the biggest wholesale cracker markets in Delhi), said: “We have been ruined, as the government did not inform us about the ban in advance. We had bought crackers before the ban, but they are now lying unused. This year, maybe people will not burst crackers as licensed wholesale shops like ours have been closed for over 10 days now. In the previous years, the other sellers would normally buy from us and sell it in their local markets but this year, the ban was put in place more than 10 days ago.”
The Delhi Police, in a statement about their preparedness, said pickets have been placed in markets and places with high footfall to sensitize public for wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.
“Public address systems and banners are also being used to sensitize people,” the police statement said.