For those looking hard enough, getting firecrackers is not that tough in Noida and Ghaziabad, never mind the complete ban on their sale and use across Delhi-NCR. They are on offer from several traders in the industrial areas of Muradnagar and Loni in Ghaziabad and stores in places like Nithari and Nevada in Noida.
A man selling Diwali items from a stall at Sector 22 in Noida admitted he had crackers, too, a disclosure he only makes to those who persist beyond his initial denials. “I have a few packets on the counter. But they are hidden behind colourful puja items in such a way that they are not easy to spot,” he said.
Most of the stock, he added, was old because Covid and the lockdowns had led to a pileup. Fresh crackers have been sourced from Bulandshahr, Loni and Aligarh. “The usual cracker market no longer exists. We also don’t order in bulk, like we did earlier from south India (Sivakasi). There are a few manufacturers in Loni who supply small quantities. Since crackers are not readily available in the market, customers are not very choosy about brands and quality,” said a trader at Shahdara in Ghaziabad.
The sales, while clandestine since no licences have been issued, have also been slow, registering marginal pickups this season during Karva Chauth and the day India played Pakistan in the T20 World Cup. Cracker traders have jacked up prices, charging 20-25% above the MRP.
Procurement through networks on instant messaging apps like WhatsApp has helped dodge the ban to an extent, several traders TOI spoke to said on Tuesday. “There are dealers who are accepting orders on WhatsApp. If the order seems genuine, the retailers are asked to pay 25% of the amount as advance. The stock is carefully concealed and brought to NCR in trucks. It is either delivered at the doorstep of the customer or at a place of their choice,” a dealer said.
Where stalls are selling crackers, they are off mostly the main thoroughfare. For instance, those set up in Nevada, Nithari and Chauda in Noida have winding dirt roads leading to them. Similarly, stalls in Loni and Muradnagar are also in rural settings. However, some sold crackers openly on internal roads of some residential sectors in Noida as well as Atta market.
A trader said despite the crackdown because of air pollution, there’s demand for crackers in NCR. “Ban or no ban, there will always be a section of people who will burst crackers,” said a seller in Ghaziabad.
R K Singh, the Ghaziabad DM, said even green crackers couldn’t be allowed in Ghaziabad because AQI was in the ‘very poor’ range.”