Making of Firecrackers in Sivakasi region,. Image source: Wikipedia

The recent ban by the Supreme court of India on the sale of firecrackers in New Delhi point to the shape of things to come for the firecracker units in India, particularly in the Sivakasi belt in Tamil Nadu.

Sivakasi region in Tamil Nadu produces around 90% of India’s need of firecrackers. Around 300 varieties of firecrackers are produced here. More than five hundred factories in small and tiny scale sector are operating in Sivakasi region. There are several villages around Sivakasi region where the people solely depend on the firecracker industry for their living. There is an enormous concern now amongst the fireworks units and the workers about the ban imposed by the courts on fireworks. They fear that several units would close down in the wake of the ban on firecrackers and they would lose their jobs soon, and they have been left high and dry.

Supreme Court has ordered the ban considering the adverse environmental effect of the fireworks. The order of the Supreme Court was followed by a few more courts in different states which also imposed ban or restrictions on firecrackers. The environmental groups have also been voicing concern about the adverse effect of firecrackers, as several chemicals which are toxic are used in the production.
All said and done; there is no doubt that the firecrackers pose an environmental hazard.

Interests of the workers ignored :

At the same time, the courts have not taken into consideration the adverse impact of the ban on the future of the fireworks industry in India, in which at least five lakh people are directly or indirectly employed to earn their livelihood. Unfortunately, the court has not even made any mention about the consequent problem that would happen to the workmen, who belong to lower income group. The court has not even suggested any alternative remedial measures to safeguard their livelihood.

Poor safety records :

Of course, firecracker units in Sivakasi have also been criticized for several reasons such as poor safety records, employment of child labor, violation of safety norms and regulations. A large number of innocent workers have been killed or suffered injuries during the last several years in many accidents, which appear to have become a matter of routine.

The government of Tamil Nadu is also partly responsible for the frequent accidents in fireworks units in Sivakasi. The government of Tamil Nadu has full-fledged inspectorate of factories and a team of health officials who are supposed to inspect and monitor the fireworks factories before providing them approval and during the operations. The local people in Sivakasi region say that the corruption in government machinery is one major reason for letting unsafe operating conditions to prevail in the fireworks units, as the government officials seldom monitor the units adequately and accept bribes to overlook deficiencies. Several inquiries have been ordered in the past after such accidents, and many recommendations have been made, but the government of Tamil Nadu has failed to implement such recommendations in letter and spirit.

Bleak future :

The export sale of Sivakasi fireworks units has also been steadily showing a decline over the years have given their inability to compete with the Chinese units in the global market and the failure to modernize the facilities to international standards.
Now, the question is what future for fireworks units in India and particularly in Sivakasi region?

Need for other industrial activities in Sivakasi region :

Given the various adverse circumstances faced by firecracker units in Sivakasi region, it is obvious that future prospects are very bleak and many units will have to close down, and thousands of workers will go without employment in the next few years.

Unfortunately, the government of Tamil Nadu and government of India have not applied their mind to the problems of fireworks units in Sivakasi region. It is very conspicuous that the Tamil Nadu government has not initiated or announced any action plans so far, in the wake of the ban order on firecrackers in New Delhi by Supreme Court, which has been followed by several similar orders by a few other courts in the country. This is a cause for huge concern.

Sivakasi region and villages around do not have any significant natural advantages like groundwater potential or big agricultural activity. The local people also do not have any particular skill other than their knowledge of working in fireworks units.

The one redeeming feature is that the entrepreneur community in Sivakasi and surrounding belt are known for their hard work, enterprise, initiative and willingness to consider new ideas. They need guidance and support from the government at this critical stage.

What Sivakasi region need today is alternate industrial units in tiny and small scale that are employment oriented and need a labour force.
In such circumstances, the government of Tamil Nadu should favorably consider a scheme to promote hosiery and garment units in the region, and the expertise of the entrepreneurs in Tirupur belt can be well utilized.

Further, setting up of a number of auto component units and foundry units to produce different types of castings are appropriate investment options for creating a cluster in Sivakasi belt.

Tamil Nadu government should immediately look into the matter and initiate proactive steps to protect the interests of poor people working in firecracker units in Sivakasi area.

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