The ban on firecrackers by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in public places — in addition to the pandemic scare — hasn’t quite kept residents of Mumbai from thronging Mohammed Ali road to buy their share during the festive season. People can be seen lining up outside shops, ignoring advisories on social distancing, eager to land the best bargains. However, according to shopkeepers, the proportion of customers has dwindled and their earnings have reduced by 70 percent in comparison to last year’s incomes.
“Previously, many customers would begin visiting us for Diwali crackers at least a month ahead of the festival. This year, people came for the purchases later and the footfall decreased further after the BMC’s ban on crackers,” said Minesh Mehta, owner of N Devidas and Company, a branch of Essabhai Fireworks, which lies a few metres away from the main market on Mohammed Ali road.
Since a month, this branch of Essabhai Fireworks has also initiated a service of delivering fireworks to customers’ doorsteps after receiving orders on WhatsApp. “This has slightly helped in easing the crowd numbers. Through word-of-mouth publicity alone, we have delivered over a 100 orders till now,” Mehta added.
On Friday, at least nine queues could be seen outside the Essabhai Fireworks shop. One person catered to each queue and men at the back helped fetch the desired crackers, even as orders were constantly being barked in the open. Outside the shop were more staffers, ready to pack the sold crackers in cardboard boxes before handing it to customers.
On a tree outside the shop hangs a notice from the Mumbai Fireworks Dealers Association, reiterating that lighting of only mild crackers have been allowed for limited hours, only on Saturday evening. “In respect to the above order from the commissioner of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, we are not selling any items other than those allowed as per the order,” it said.
Even in the category of mild crackers — sparklers, flowerpots, wheels and mild bombs — are various types; ‘giant’, ‘super’, ‘special’, ‘deluxe’ and ‘standard’.
Despite the ban, many buyers claim that fireworks are an integral part of Diwali celebrations. “Given that Diwali will be a dull affair this year due to the lack of big gatherings, lighting crackers will bring some semblance of festivity. We have brought mild crackers in limited quantity,” said Viny Shetty, a customer.
Following the BMC’s order, members of firecracker associations had sent the banned fireworks back to their godowns outside Mumbai, said Navin Chadwa of Mumbai and Thane District Fireworks Dealers’ Welfare Association, who also owns the Classic Fireworks shop on Yusuf Meherali Road.
“Small traders usually purchase crackers from big traders like us, who buy it directly from manufacturers. For this year’s stock, we had placed orders last year since the crackers are made by hand and its production is dependent on the climate. After the ban was announced, we had to return the advance payment made by several of our customers since we wouldn’t want to spoil our business relations. We also wrote to manufacturers asking them to replace our stock, but we have not heard back,” said Chadwa.
Shops across the city are being checked by BMC officials for the kind of firecrackers they’re selling, resulting in some seizures. Mild crackers do not fetch the same price as fancy crackers, said another shopkeeper who foresees things to improve by next year.