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In the south, fewer Chinese items, COVID-19 scare dim Diwali—Part II

Unlike in the north, a shortage of economically-priced Chinese products such as festive lights has resulted in fewer customers this season. This is the second of a three-part series

November 10, 2020 / 05:02 PM IST

The Festival of Lights is unlikely to be a brightly-lit one for traders of Diwali items this year in the southern states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Added to the COVID-19-related restrictions that have already crimped business, a shortage of economically-priced Chinese products such as festive lights has resulted in fewer customers this season.

Read Part 1 and Part 3

Moneycontrol spoke to traders across Bengaluru to find out how business is this Diwali.

A trader in Electronic City, who had few customers in his shop and didn't seem too happy with the number of buyers, said this year Chinese products like festive lights were hard to get, and this has affected sales.

"The inventory of festive lights coming from China in my shop has dropped by 65 percent and I am depending on other options."

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Vinod Kumar, who runs a small shop selling decorative lights in KR Market, one of the biggest wholesale markets in Bengaluru, said currently he is mostly getting products that are made in Mumbai or Delhi. "We are relying on ‘made in India’ products more this year."

Pricing is a factor, especially in these difficult times. As the trader from Electronic City pointed out, "The festive lights from China, they cost not more than Rs 200 to Rs 300 whereas other lights cost around Rs 500. Why would a customer buy an expensive product? But we don't have an option but to sell the expensive lights and this is resulting in lesser sales this year."

Industry estimates suggest that India imports festive lights valued at over Rs 1,000 crore every year from China. However, this year there has been a significant drop in imports from China of many festive products, including festive lights and gift items.

No fireworks this Diwali

Moneycontrol spoke to sellers in the industrial hub of Hosur on the Tamil Nadu-Karnataka border, which is one of the biggest markets for firecrackers near Bengaluru, and the picture they painted wasn't rosy. An entire lane of firecracker shops in the township is seeing only a few buyers even during weekends, and this is worrying the sellers.

Every time a vehicle passed by their shops, the firecracker dealers eagerly got up, hoping for some sales. But it’s been disappointing so far.

There is hardly any business this Diwali due to the COVID-19 pandemica wholesaler in Hosur said. "By this time of the year, we would see around 20-30 people coming to our shops in a day. But now, it is less than five a day. In terms of overall business, so far it is only 10-15 percent of last year."

Echoing similar sentiments, another trader said big celebrations during Diwali this year are missing and that is resulting in drop in sales of firecrackers.

However, for manufacturers in India’s firecracker hub of Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, it’s not Chinese products but COVID-19 that is causing problems.

Rajendra Raja, Vice President, Indian Fireworks Manufacturers Association, said Chinese products, which have been an issue over the last few years, are not an issue now, thanks to steps taken by the government. It is in fact a lack of customers venturing out due to the COVID scare that is the problem.

Ganesh*, a wholesaler from Kanyakumari, said the volume of fireworks he brought this year had been down as the production itself had reduced.

“This time due to lockdown, fireworks production was impacted. So that has reflected in our purchase as well,” said Ganeshwho has a permanent licence to sell fireworks in the state.

Due to the pandemic, factories in Sivakasi were running less than half the capacity, Raja said. “So instead of 100 percent capacity we manufactured only 40 percent and expect to sell only 20 percent of that.”

Even with this reduction, it is not clear if these traders would be able to sell them. “The regulations keep changing,” pointed out Ganesh. “People are not sure if they can use fireworks on Diwali since the government has allowed only two hours window for fireworks. Few years ago, we had no such restrictions,” he added.

Babu*, who hails from Kanyakumari and has been visiting Sivakasi to buy fireworks for about 20 years now, said unlike previous years, customers’ footfall to buy crackers was far less.

“Usually, there would be a huge rush to buy fireworks. This time when I went, there were hardly any customers in smaller shops. In bigger ones, it was far less than one would expect,” he said.

In addition, there were no new launches since factories were shut down. “Every year we find at least 6-7 new varieties of fireworks. This year it has been missing due to Covid-19 and lockdown that followed,” he said.

“With drop in production, I found that cost has increased by 10-20 percent for some products,” Babu added.

The situation is likely to get worse for traders selling firecrackers as the Karnataka government on November 6 announced a ban on firecrackers. Delhi, Odisha, and Rajasthan have also banned firecrackers keeping in mind the spread of Covid-19.

A dull Diwali

For traders in decorative lights, the scenario is no different.

"Usually, we mostly have people coming in to buy decorative lights for Diwali celebrations in housing societies or for Diwali functions or events. But all of that is missing this year. This is why business is down by 50 percent," said Kumar from KR Market in Bengaluru.

In earlier times, at this time of the year, especially during evenings, he hardly had time to check his phone. "Now, look at me I am catching up on IPL (Indian Premier League) matches."

Vishnu*, another seller of Diwali lights, said that he used to attend to 100-120 people in a day, but this has now dropped to less than 25.

Even for Manish who runs a shop that sells both audio equipment and lights, business has been slow so far.

"I used to supply speakers, lights to pandals that were set up during Diwali every year across the city. For me, the major demand came from the Diwali pandals. But currently there are no pandals and I have lost my major clients. I am selling small-size products, which is not resulting in good business this year. Diwali was one of the main events for my business and even that opportunity is lost," he said.

"Last year, I had around 200 people in my shop every day and now it is 30-40 people. Be it lights, diyas, lanterns, demand for everything is low," a trader in Electronics City said.

* Full names were not provided to protect identity.

Follow the entire series here.

Maryam Farooqui
Swathi Moorthy