Deadly Deepavali

Deepavali has been marred by firecracker-related tragedies this year as well. A blaze in a firecracker godown in Pallipattu village near Chennai has left at least 32 people dead. Only a few days ago, a 10-year-old child died in a fire that broke out in a cracker market in Uttar Pradesh’s Bulandshahr district. There have been several accidents too in various parts of the country where people burning crackers sustained injuries and had to be rushed to hospital. Once synonymous with fun, fireworks have increasingly come to be associated with explosions, deadly accidents and burns injuries. They are taking the joy out of celebrating Deepavali. At every step, from their production and transport to their sales and use, crackers are proving dangerous. In July-August this year, explosions took place in at least five firecracker production units in Sivakasi, the centre of India’s fireworks manufacturing industry. More recently, fireworks being illegally transported by train set off an explosion at Sholavandan railway station near Madurai killing two and injuring several others.

It is well known that over half the manufacturing units in Sivakasi and other places are not licensed and function with the full knowledge of local authorities. Many licensed manufacturers outsource work to people producing fireworks at home. In the Pallipattu incident too, it appears the godown where the fireworks were stored was not licensed.
While licensing is essential, this alone will not prevent accidents. Many licensed units flout safety norms. It is important therefore that manufacturing units, godowns and shops are regularly inspected. In recent years, authorities have restricted sale of crackers to a few areas in cities. This is a welcome step. However, sale of fireworks is allowed through the year by some shops that have been issued permanent licenses. Often these shops are located on busy streets. A spark from a cigarette or a short circuit can set off a blaze.

Such sales must be stopped. Besides, there is a need to put in place stern punishment for violating safety regulations. Often those caught violating rules are let off with a light rap on their knuckles. This is not enough. Those whose wanton negligence has resulted in the death of people should be tried for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Stern action will prompt those engaged in the fireworks trade to respect safety standards and human lives.

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