When 60-odd traders appeared before the Gautam Buddha Nagar district magistrate recently, it was not solely to receive temporary licences allowing them to sell firecrackers in the run-up to the Diwali festivities. They were also there to swear against violating an October 23 Supreme Court verdict aimed at alleviating air quality levels in the national capital region.
A video in NDTV's possession shows a group of traders solemnly repeating after a district administration official that they will only sell eco-friendly crackers in keeping with the top court's verdict. However, a visit to the Sector 33 firecracker market in Noida revealed that the oath -- which began with the words "Hum shapath lete hai ki hum green patakhe hi bechenge (we pledge to only sell green firecrackers)" -- was probably not taken very seriously.
For one, there were no green firecrackers to speak of.
"We first heard of green firecrackers when the Supreme Court passed the verdict two weeks ago. How were we supposed to stock up at such a short notice?" a trader asked on the condition of anonymity, adding that the idea of eco-friendly firecrackers was alien even to its manufacturers.
The policemen patrolling the market seemed equally clueless. When confronted, many admitted that they wouldn't be able to tell a polluting firecracker from a green one.
The city administration shrugged its shoulders too, pointing out that the responsibility of enforcing the regulations lies with the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO). "Copies of the licences and its terms have been sent to PESO as well as other compliance authorities," said Gautam Buddh Nagar District Magistrate Brajesh Narayan Singh, adding that the Uttar Pradesh police have been asked to implement the verdict "in letter and spirit".
At first sight, that was what some police officers -- who were seen walking off with stacks of firecrackers -- seemed to be up to. However, sellers claimed they were not doing it because their wares were illegal. The police were taking away their firecrackers without paying for them simply in return for letting them conduct their business uninterrupted.
Noida Senior Superintendent of Police Ajay Pal Sharma denied receiving any complaints of extortion. "The directions given by the Supreme Court are being implemented," he said. "Checking is going on, and the directions that have been given are being followed."