After a 'subdued' business for the last two years due to COVID-19, fireworks traders in West Bengal are keeping their fingers crossed for the Diwali festival this time even though demand for green firecrackers is yet to pick up.
They have not witnessed any sales traction due to several factors, including the government's decision to allow only green fireworks and threatening of a cyclone during the Kali puja this year, said a functionary of a bazi bazar' organising committee here.
Compared to a daily footfall of 2,000-2,500 in the Tallah Park Bazi Bazar in the pre-COVID Diwali seasons, the same has been around 1,000-1,500 from its opening on October 20, he said.
Around 44 stalls have been put up here, and each stall, on an average, is registering Rs 1 lakh sales every day, down from a daily turnover of Rs 2 lakh in 2018-19, Tallah Park Green Bazi Bazar Treasurer Sarojit Awon told PTI.
"We are only selling green firecrackers certified by central agencies which have expertise to decide which fireworks follow the prescribed norms. But due to network issues, it takes time for the QR code to be scanned and the certifying letter by the appropriate authority to be downloaded. This makes customers jittery as they may face questions by police for buying non-green products," he said.
Due to high prices of green fireworks, customers also remain cautious to buy a product, and that is reflected in the overall sales figure, Awon said.
Pradip Das, one of the sellers at the bazi bazar, said sparklers, flower pots, rong moshal, whistling chorki are among the green items, which are mostly being sold, as both sellers and buyers become health conscious and are "settling for low-emission and less-noisy fireworks".
"Crackers are not among the preferred ones due to confusion in decibel limit as there are a few crackers generating sound below 90 decibel. The West Bengal Pollution Control Board and police officials are confiscating fireworks which fail to pass tests for 90-decibel limit though nationally, the bar is 125 decibel. None wants to face harassment by the authorities," Das explained.
"We are hopeful that the sale will pick up on Sunday and the day of Kali Puja-Diwali on October 24. However, the heavy rain forecast has dampened the spirit," Awon said.
Fourteen units in the state had already got licence from the environment ministry last year for making fireworks which conform to all norms and guidelines, and a few more facilities have got an approval for producing green crackers this year, he said.
Sara Bangla Atasbazi Unnayan Samity Chairman Babla Roy said "sales have not been as expected in any of the three bazi bazars in the city", the biggest one in Tallah Park in north and the other two in Kalikapur and Behala in south.
"But nowhere sales have been much encouraging in the past two-three days," Roy said.
"At our recent meeting with the WBPCB, we had urged the authorities to come clear on the confusion related to 90-decibel limit and 125-decibel mark. The 90-decibel limit has been hitting hard 31 lakh fireworks makers across Bengal. The notification about banned fireworks does not specify the 90-decibel limit and only gives stress on QR codes.
"But some NGOs are trying to throttle the industry in Bengal which had once set the trend of burning colourful fireworks having different patterns in air. We urge the government to come forward to aid our indigenous industry and help it modernise," Roy said.
Environmentalist S M Ghosh, however, said the basic health issues of people cannot be overlooked in the name of livelihood.
"Most of the green crakcers' sound level falls within the range of 110 to 125 decibel. But WBPCB had, in the past, specified 90-decibel limit for the sound-emitting firecrackers. This has not been withdrawn but the market is flooded with fireworks exceeding the specified limit.
"The QR code marks are also fictitious in our state. If you check them under phone scanner, nothing will be visible," he claimed.
WBPCB Chairman Kalyan Rudra said the pollution watchdog officials along with experts and police are keeping tab on the bazi bazars regularly.
"We hope to ensure only green fireworks conforming to certified norms are sold," Rudra said.