Sivakasi crackers face threat from Chinese intrusion

There is no stopping the march of the ‘dragon’ with China posing threat to India even in its traditional bastion of crackers made in Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu, the fireworks capital of the country.

The Rs 3,500 crore fireworks industry, which generates employment to more than 5 lakh people, is facing the worst-ever crisis in its 250-year-old history due to the Chinese vigorous intrusion into the cracker business.

Recently, the whole industry, which caters to 80 per cent of country’s requirement, was on indefinite strike against the Centre for not taking any steps to ban imports of Chinese crackers even as Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha had recently voiced concern over the issue, in which prime minister Narendra Modi may have to intervene.

Though the Union ministry of home affairs had sent orders to all state governments including the Union territories in 2013, highlighting the implications and dangers of smuggled Chinese fireworks, which contain potassium chlorate, a compound banned in India, still China was able to export crackers to India worth more than Rs 300 crore. The ministry had also suggested  all the states to deal strictly with people found in possession of such fireworks.

Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers’ Association (TANFAMA) vice president A Mariappan claimed Chinese crackers were coming through big containers through the sea, which is unchecked for long time.

“The import figure could be even higher to the tune of about Rs 400 crore. Since much of Chinese products come into India illegally, there is no exact official record of the value,” he said.

He claimed that last year alone around 700 containers full of firecrackers worth about Rs 300 crore were imported and this year his association has got specific information that orders were placed and import is expected to double.

Most of the Chinese products are aerial firecrackers. “Crackers containing Potash and perchloric (a powerful oxidizing agent) let out more than 80 per cent more carbon dioxide and their noise level too are very high above the permissible limits in India,” he said.

Mariappan said that the Chinese firework industry is very huge and it has a share of $ 8 billion in the global market.

Its landed cost of exports is 50 per cent lower for Indian companies and it saves a lot in terms of raw material and labour cost.

In addition, unlike India, China has relaxed its laws related in export and import of firecrackers.

Sources in the state government said that Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation or PESO, the nodel agency related to firecracker business, never granted import licences to any companies for incendiaries in the country.

The major work under Explosives Rules, 2008 relates only to grant of approval, licences for manufacture, authorisation, storage and transport of explosives by road.

Interestingly, during the hearing of a PIL seeking a direction for a CBI probe into the recent seizure of banned Chinese crackers from a godown at Sivakasi in Virudhunagar district, the Madurai bench of Madras high court had asked the district officials to find out from where the banned crackers had entered India.

Questions of concern

Expressing concern about Chinese crackers reaching the country despite ban on their imports, the judges said that either they should have come by air or sea.

In any case, Customs officials should have known about it. Even if they had come by giving false declaration, they must have checked the consignment and found out.

The judges wanted to know why FIR was not registered immediately after the seizure of the crackers and why the accused was not nabbed.

They even wondered if the officials were hand in glove with the accused.

Rejecting the argument that Central Excise was responsible for the entry of the crackers, the court said, “Police should be able to find out the chain that helped Chinese crackers reach Sivakasi.”

Sivakasi, about 550 km from Chennai, produces around 80 per cent of the country’s fireworks. About 800 legal fire cracker units are actively producing crackers. The climate here is dry and rainfall very low, facilitating the industry that requires weather to dry the pyro and chemical substances.

“The firework industry is seriously affected due to the lack of effective action by the Government of India to prevent the smuggling of Chinese fireworks into India that are more unsafe due to use of a cheaper raw material, chlorate, which is banned in India. Not only does this affect domestic employment, but also raises serious safetyissues and environmental hazards,” said Jayalalitha, in her letter to the previous UPA government in April 2014.

A senior Customs official said that there are no high-tech facilities in Indian ports to check or control the smuggling of firecrackers into the country.

“Mostly officials are conducting only random checking in the containers.

There should be high-tech s, which would screen the containers fully”, the official said.

According to Tamil Nadu Commerce and Industries sources, Sivakasi could potentially earn Rs 15,000 crore per annum through exports.

Currently, it only exports about 7 per cent of its products. People, who want to export the crackers, also face several issues both in shipping and air transport.

Commercial container ships to potential markets do not come to Tuticorin port, which is near to Sivakasi. As for the aircrafts,   products that are incendiary in nature are not airlifted.

“If the government does not come to our rescue, within a few years of time Chinese crackers will dominate Indian market and there is a possibility of lakhs of people losing their jobs,” S Kathiravan, senior sales person of  a fireworks unit said.

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