Illegal cracker units thrive in Kerala

Kerala’s attraction for fireworks using high decibel and powerful firecrackers to add colour and pomp to temple festivals even at the cost of violating regulations is leaving hundreds dead and maimed from fireworks related accidents.

A total of 276 people have been killed in the state from fireworks related accidents since 2006. Hundreds of people injured in such accidents are leading a pathetic life. A majority of these accidents occurred at illegal firecracker manufacturing units and by conducting fireworks flouting all norms.

Most of these accidents in Kerala occur in Central and South Kerala where the craze for powerful firecrackers is the highest. As many as 17 workers were killed at Vennoor, a village on the border of Thrissur and Palakkad districts and a thriving centre of illegal firecracker units in last three years.

“Though the government is aware of illegal activities here, it seems to be reluctant to implement laws,” said V K Venkatachalam, secretary of Public Interest Forum, an organisation which has been fighting illegal firecracker unit owners and regulate fireworks.

A nexus involving owners of fireworks units in the unorganised sector, revenue officials and the police and the support to the clique by different caste organisations which conduct fireworks at temples owned by them makes it difficult to control the firecracker industry, said Venkatachalam.

A majority of workers who are engaged in manufacture of firecrackers come from the poorest sections of society and many of them are addicts to liquor. Though rules make it mandatory that even those who get a licence to manufacture firecrackers can handle only up to 15 kilos of explosive substances for a single event they are usually found to handle more than 2000 kg of explosives, said Venkatachalam.

Similarly rules regarding use of explosives which produce more than 125 decibels of sound are also being violated, he said.

According to him, highly volatile substances like potassium chlorate are being used to generate deafening sound.

“Unskilled workers in firecracker units unknowingly mix volatile chemicals leading to explosions,” he said.

While it is mandatory that permission to conduct fireworks should be given only after several rounds of inspection by senior revenue officials with magisterial powers and senior police officials, the inspections are usually a farce, observers Venkatachalam.

Currently in Kerala, the role of The Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation is limited to granting  licence to handle explosives and district collectors are responsible for implementation of provisions of explosive act.

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