Green crackers' market sees red due to low supply, lack of varieties
It has been a year since conventional crackers were banned. So to satisfy the demand for crackers, manufacturing licences were given to firework makers to make eco-friendly firecrackers which has limited options and it doesn't seem to be doing wel...
“What about chakri (wheelers), bombs, rockets and ladi (garland crackers)?” asks the boy. “No. These [fountains and sparklers] are the only green crackers available in the market. You can check other shops too,” says Das wryly. The boy picks a pack each and walks away, looking disappointed.
It is no more business as usual for cracker merchants at the market near Jama Masjid ahead of Diwali. Barely a handful of shops can be seen selling crackers.
“Earlier, we used to stock at least 200 varieties [of conventional crackers]. Now we have just two. Sales are less than 20% compared to last year. Many have moved to selling decorative items and lights. Sometimes, even children are not keen to buy crackers.
They say their schools have told them about their harmful effects,” says another merchant, not wanting to be identified.
The cracker industry, pegged at Rs 1,800 crore per annum, is likely to run into losses this year, according to estimates.
It has been a year since Supreme Court banned conventional crackers to curb pollution.
In the meantime, to satisfy the demand for crackers, eight government-run laboratories came up with eight eco-friendly alternatives, also dubbed as “green crackers”, and gave manufacturing licences to firework makers. The varieties include sound-emitting crackers, fountains, pencils, wheelers and sparklers.
“To make green crackers, conventional formulations based on barium nitrate were discontinued and new formulations with potassium nitrate as an oxidant were developed.
These crackers produces 30% less particulate matter and sound, says Rakesh Kumar, director of National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), a Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-run lab in Nagpur that led the project. The scientists say the new oxidant in the crackers produce dust suppressants and sorbents that reduce emission and sound.
These crackers carry a logo and a QR code to differentiate them from conventional crackers. Scan the code and you will know which chemicals make up the cracker. “After the Supreme Court ban, there was a threat of closure of the fireworks industry. However, science has again come to the rescue and millions of jobs have been saved,” says Union Health and Science & Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan.
Mood of the Market
But new chemical formula appears to have pushed up the prices of the crackers, say traders. “Green crackers are 30-50% costlier than conventional ones. This is another reason behind low sales,” says Das, the merchant in Old Delhi. There is also a supply problem, despite government’s claims that multiple types of crackers based on the new formulations were readily available. “We were expecting at least seven to eight varieties. We have only two,” says Pranjal Gupta, who too was looking to buy crackers at Sadar Bazaar.
More than 2,600 km away in Sivakasi — the town that makes nearly 95% of the country’s crackers — factories became active only in May after observing a six-month strike to protest against the Supreme Court ban. After the factories reopened, workers were trained in batches to make green crackers. But the factories were soon short of hands since many workers had migrated to other places during the strike.
“This is peak season but there is a 30 to 40% labour shortage. Due to the strike, people here have also started illegally making harmful crackers at home. I feel this home-made cracker production must be 30% of the total manufacturing this year. Since the volume of green crackers is low due to the new formulations, share of illegal crackers have risen,” says a registered green crackers maker in Sivakasi, who did not want to be named.
Traders in Sivakasi also attributed the increase in the supply of toxic conventional crackers to factories disposing off last year’s stock even as they make the limited varieties of green crackers.
There were 1,600 licenced fireworks units in the country as of last year. Of them, nearly 350 fireworks manufacturers were said to have obtained licences to make green crackers but traders claim the actual number may be less. “The ban hit half of our business. We could not mass produce green crackers this year due to lack of time. These crackers require multiple tests,” says Balaji TK, director at Sree Balaji Fireworks.
But P Ganesan, president of Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers’ Association, is hopeful. “We expect more business in the coming days as the crackers are eco-friendly. We are also working to limit the cracker noise level to 90 decibels from 120 decibels now.”
The cracker supply situation too will improve by next year, he says. “This year we could not fulfil the demand but we should be able to resume full supply of all 200 varieties for next Diwali.”.