Ec(h)o-friendly Diwali Part 3: HC orders a blow to North India’s cracker epicentre, Kurali
The Punjab and Haryana high court ruling fixing a time slot for bursting crackers is another nail in the coffin for the Kurali cracker market, one of the biggest in the region with an annual turnover of 7 to 8 crore. The dealers attribute it to the rising awareness about the polluting effects of crackers, demonetisation and GST coupled with the present slump in property prices resulting in a lesser flow of cash among buyers.
With their sales falling by almost 50%, the dealers have now started looking for alternative business propositions. As one of them put it, “There is no scope left for the trade now, our children will have to look for newer business opportunities.”
Ashok Bathla, a wholesale dealer in Kurali, whose family has been dealing in fireworks for the last three generations, has already found an exit option. “We have started another parallel business as the profits have come down drastically and the sales are dipping every year.”
Though famous for its crackers at wholesale rates, the Kurali marlet has never been well regulated. Almost 80% of traders are functioning here without any licences. The market supplies firecrackers to dealers in Chandigarh, Mohali, Panchkula, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and various parts of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.
Despite the volume of the business and its reach, insiders say the market has only about 10 licenced wholesalers and 500 unregistered dealers.
Almost all the crackers sold here are exported from Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu. The wholesalers eagerly await the annual festival of lights as 90% of their sales take place in the run-up to the D-day. Only 10% of the crackers are sold during the rest of the year.
Bathla, says, “The sale of crackers has been on the decline over the years, and this year it has been hit by the GST, which has spiked the prices of crackers.” The slump, he says, began five years ago. “Every year, we see a 10% fall in the sales. The sales have declined between 25% and 50% in the last few years.”
Vicky, another cracker dealer, echoes Bathla when he says, “The market is not upbeat this year. Earlier, the sales would start picking up after Rakshabandhan in August, but this year people started purchasing crackers only towards the end of September.”
More than five decades old
The cracker market used to be a wholesale hub of jaggery. But when this business started turning sour, the traders took to selling bangles, laces and other ornamental stuff, locally called ‘maniari’. But when this didn’t do very well, some of them took to dealing in fireworks. Thanks to the crackling profits, more and more people plunged into this business, making Kurali the epicentre of fireworks in the north.
Some of the traders say the market has been flourishing here due to its close proximity to UT, Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Pliable rules also contributed to the popularity of the market.
Hitler wanted to visit Kurali
The traders claim that Kurali was once a training centre for new recruits entering the British military service from the undivided Punjab.
Many of these young men went on to take part in both World War I and World War II. Some of them were the first Indian soldiers seen in Germany or France. Lore has it that impressed with their bravery on the battlefield, Nazi leader Hitler asked them where they had been trained. When they trotted out the name of Kurali, he expressed his desire to visit the town.
According to another lore, Kurali got its name from the Kauravas, who stayed here for an extended period. The town, it is said, was called Kaurawali. Over time, the name was pared down to Kurali.
Sky shots most sought after
Sky shots (atishbaji) continue to remain the most sought-after crackers among consumers. Dealers say that due to awareness about pollution-free Diwali, the consumers have lately taken a shine to sparklers and the popularity of noise-producing crackers is on the ebb. But anaar, chakri and full shots remain the enduring favourites even today.
The sky shots cary a heavy price tag and can set you back by anywhere between 1000 and 11,000 for a bunch. Eager to sell all their wares during the run-up to Diwali, the wholesale dealers are offering big discounts, which can range from 60% to 80% in some cases. The traders lamented that an increasing number of students are turning away from fireworks due to the awareness campaigns about the polluting effects of crackers.
No fire station
Even though Kurali is home to one of the biggest cracker markets in Punjab, the fire department has not made any fire safety arrangements here. In case of a fire, the tender will have to be rushed from Mohali or Ropar, which will take it almost an hour.
The vendors have come up with stalls outside the shops making it tough for the commuters to negotiate the narrow roads. With Diwali just a few days away, traffic has already begun to choke up. A local says even a small incident of fire could flare up into a big blaze given the combustible material all over the place. “Despite the risk involved, the administration is yet to set up a temporary fire station here,” he rued.
A round of the cracker market shows that only a few shopkeepers have made arrangements of sand buckets and water sprinklers. Others seem content to sit on a ticking bomb. The dealers have stored fire crackers in stores and makeshift tents without making proper arrangements and there is no gap between the stalls. Some of the cracker shops are functioning from the residential areas as well.
“We are making proper arrangements for fire safety at Kurali,” said Mohali sub fire officer Mohal Lal Verma. “A fire tender will remain deployed in the cracker market from October 16 till Diwali.”
Substandard and duplicate crackers
Sub-standard and duplicate crackers are also making their way into the market. The crackers generally come from Sivakasi, but the transportation and tax add to the cost. As a result, some of the traders are selling locally made crackers at lesser rates, which are also low on safety.
The most toxic cracker available in Kurali is the Lal Pataka, which emits a lot of smoke. The packaging of all crackers lists the chemicals and expiry date.