Sivakasi limps as green crackers take their toll

The units where labourers used to produce crackers have all closed. DH Photo/E T B Sivapriyan

The three-month shutdown of more than 1,000 factories has resulted in losses of hundreds of crores of rupees for fireworks manufacturers, while lakhs of workers dependent on the industry have been rendered jobless.

 

This is the present condition of Sivakasi — the fireworks’ town in southern Tamil Nadu known as Little Japan for its inimitable workforce — after the Supreme Court banned the use of barium nitrate, an indispensable chemical for the industry, and ordered that only ‘green crackers’ be manufactured.

With the government, academic and scientific institutions not clear on what green crackers are and how they are produced, the 1,000-odd fireworks manufacturers chose not to reopen their factories after the mandatory Deepavali holidays.

“We cannot produce green crackers as we don’t know its definition yet. And there are only a few products which can be made without barium nitrate. Almost 75% of the firecrackers, including those used by children like sparklers, cannot be produced without the chemical. We had no choice but to close the factories,” K Mariappan, secretary, Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association (TANFAMA), told DH.

The TANFAMA has been appealing to the Centre to change its stand — it was the Centre which said green crackers can be manufactured — before the Supreme Court and grant them time to find out a new formula and carry out tests before producing them.

The shutdown has resulted in a financial loss of Rs 1,500 crore — manufacturers get advance orders from across the country immediately after Deepavali for the next festival season — and loss of employment for five lakh labourers who are directly or indirectly dependent on the industry.

With no resolution in sight as the Supreme Court refused to grant any relief on manufacturers’ plea that they be allowed to produce crackers with barium nitrate till the government comes out with a formula for green crackers, several people, mostly men, have left the town looking for jobs in faraway Tiruppur and other industrial towns in Tamil Nadu.

“Virudhunagar district’s economy is entirely dependent on Sivakasi and more than five lakh labourers are out on streets on hungry stomach. Only a few have managed to find alternative jobs, that too temporary. The condition of the labourers is quite bad. The government should step in and find a solution,” M Mahalakshmi, general secretary of Crackers and Matchbox Employees Sangam, said.

With the apex court refusing to give any relief to the manufacturers, the Employees Sangam has knocked at the doors of the court seeking relief. The petition will come up for hearing on Tuesday.

Since the labourers are purely dependent on daily wages (paid every Saturday by employers), many have taken loans to meet their expenses while others have sought assistance from their employers, who say they are unable to even pay interest on the loans they availed for the last festival season.

“Forget our financial losses. We are more bothered about the future of the industry. We should be allowed to use barium nitrate till the time the government comes up with a formula for green crackers. Banning the chemical without providing us an alternative and wrecking our lives is the most unfortunate thing, “N Kartheeswaran of Sri Velavan Fireworks, which registers a turnover of Rs 2 crore per annum, said.

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Sivakasi limps as green crackers take their toll

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