Not a cracker of a Deepavali for Sivakasi

A firecracker shop in Sivakasi. DH Photo/E T B Sivapriyan

Much of Sivakasi's famed produce may miss the green bus this Deepavali.

In the absence of a Supreme Court verdict to end confusion over commercial manufacture of less polluting crackers, most of the firecrackers from the town are unlikely to reach the market as "green crackers".

A handful of manufacturers may bring out a few green products while some others can try their luck in the grey market without caring for apex court norms.

"We have already printed the green cracker tags but can't use them because of the impending SC verdict. We will add the QR code as suggested by the court, most probably from next year once things are clear," said a manufacturer in India's fireworks capital.

Only 300-odd factories out of 1,070 manufacturers in Sivakasi have collaborated with the Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), one of the CSIR laboratories, by signing MoUs and NDAs (non-disclosure agreements). Some others have produced green crackers by "learning from those who have the formula" and shipped them to the markets already.

Following last year's apex court order, a consortium of nine CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research) laboratories, led by NEERI, came up with two categories of green alternatives — “new” crackers without barium salt and “improved” ones with lesser quantity of barium, using an additive. Both will reduce emissions by 30-35%.

Industry players admit several manufacturing units have flouted the court directive by using barium nitrate — a chemical whose use has been banned by the SC. Only four of the nearly 1,100 manufacturers in Sivakasi have been accorded the Green Cracker Composition Approval by the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), the statutory body that grants licence to fireworks factories.

"We can't use the green tag this year. Yes, green crackers are the future and there is no other way than making crackers with less emission to meet the demands of the top court and the government to reduce pollution,” said P Ganesan, president of Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association (TANFAMA).

Manufacturers who haven't partnered with NEERI cite "lack of clarity" and confusion around the new formula. They question NEERI’s formulations that use barium nitrate and the institution’s expertise in the field.

NEERI chief scientist Sadhana Rayalu told DH that the institute had developed formulations without barium nitrate that are used in atom bombs, flowerpots and sparklers.

"These samples meet the stipulated norms of green crackers, and emission test certificates have been issued accordingly,” she said, adding that nearly 530 certificates were issued to manufactures.

Ganesan says there is no confusion over green crackers. Nor is there any room for it. "The SC has asked us to produce green crackers and appointed NEERI as the agency to come out with new and improved formulations. Accordingly, we have collaborated with it," he said.

However, P C A Asaithambi, director of Lord Fireworks and former president of TANFAMA, says CSIR-NEERI has found formulas only for a few items and it is not easy to come out with new formulations for every single item produced by fireworks manufacturers.

"There is confusion in Sivakasi. Only a few have signed MoUs with NEERI which has not involved PESO, the competent authority that issues licence to fireworks factories," he said, expressing hope that the Supreme Court comes out with its final verdict soon.

Though NEERI came out with more than two dozen improved and new formulations, only those that did not have barium nitrate were cleared by PESO. There is also an opinion among manufacturers that they were not given enough time to mass produce green crackers since they were approved only in March 2019.

"The Supreme Court gave ample time for vehicle manufacturers and users to shift from BS IV to BS VI but asked us to manufacture green crackers in a second. We agree green crackers are the future, but the court should have given enough time for the industry to prepare itself," pointed out T Kannan, managing director of Sree Balaji Fireworks.

A section of manufacturers alleges that NEERI is asking them to sign a non-disclosure agreement and pay a fee of Rs 10,000 or more to use additives for which the institute holds a patent. To this, Ganesan said the amount of Rs 10,000 is a one-time payment which has been brought down after negotiations.

Kannan, who is also a member of The Indian Fireworks Manufacturers Association (TIFMA), said the NEERI formula was designed in a way that it reduces pollution by 30-35%.

"We could not go for mass production this year due to paucity of time. If the SC verdict comes in November, green crackers will be available in abundance next year," he said.

"It has been proved that green crackers emit only 125 decibels compared to 160 by conventional crackers. Also, there is evidence to suggest that the green ones produce 30% less particulate matter," said another manufacturer.

Another leading player, who did not wish to be named, said the fireworks industry would be the ultimate beneficiary if it adapts to manufacturing green crackers.

"There is larger concern over pollution and if people come to know that these green crackers emit less pollution and cost almost the same as the conventional ones, they will certainly buy them. The green crackers also open abundant opportunities for export," he said.

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