Only 28 of the 1,600 fireworks units in the country have got licences to manufacture them
‘Green crackers’ are a farce, considering the small number of licensed units with approval from the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation for production of a limited number of products, say fireworks manufacturers in Sivakasi.
“Only 28 units out of some 1,600 licensed fireworks units in the entire country have got licences to manufacture green crackers. And many of them have got licence for only one product while the industry usually produces over 300 products of different types and varieties,” one of the manufacturers told The Hindu on condition of anonymity. The much-hyped green crackers, for which formulations were given by Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-National Environmental Engineering Institute (NEERI) to reduce pollution, were launched recently by Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan. “How can 28 manufacturers supply fireworks for the entire nation for the biggest festival of Deepavali?” is the question that they pose.
Only some 300 fireworks manufacturers have signed a memorandum of understanding with CSIR-NEERI to obtain licences to manufacture green crackers or crackers with lower levels of emission.
Heavy losses feared
As a result, the fireworks hub of Sivakasi will face heavy losses this year as many factories here are yet to implement the Supreme Court’s directive to manufacture eco-friendly crackers. According to estimates, the industry will run up an Rs. 800 crore loss.
Currently, the fireworks industry is pegged at Rs. 1,800 crore per annum. There are also illegal units whose business is pegged at Rs. 2,000 crore
The very definition of green crackers is yet to be scientifically proven as the baseline emission of different types and varieties of fireworks has not been clearly defined. “With over 1,600 licensed units making hundreds of products, the facility to test emissions of crackers is highly inadequate.
At the facility, only two products can be tested in a day,” the manufacturer said. Besides, PESO, the licensing authority for the fireworks industry, has a long-drawn process to approve bulk production of new products.
The managing director of another fireworks unit said that there is no clarity on what a green cracker is, “so we put our production on hold for a long time. Our production levels have come down by 50%. We are only making crackers on order,” he added.
For Kaliswari Fireworks, production is down by a third this year. “When the factories were closed for over three months, many of our workers moved out of Sivakasi. Almost 1,000 of our workers moved out and we faced labour shortage because of this,” said A.P. Selvarajan, its managing director.
It’s not just Kaliswari. Several other factory owners also spoke about how their production was down as thousands of employees had moved out of the industry and taken up other jobs outside Sivakasi. Until five years ago, the industry employed over 5 lakh people directly and indirectly. Now the number stands at 2 lakh.
Nearly 20 lakh people across the country reportedly earn their livelihood by engaging in transporting, storing, distributing and selling fireworks. Another 80 lakh people are engaged in selling fireworks through temporary licenses (for 30 days’ duration) during the Diwali season.
Also, with hundreds of factories remaining locked for 100 days from December 2018, protesting against the ban on making joined crackers and usage of barium nitrate in fireworks production, the factories lost much of their production time. “Without barium nitrate and the ban on joined crackers, we could make only the bijili variety,” another manufacturer said.
However, this came in handy for the unorganised or unlicensed sector, which made a killing. Besides, when the State government appealed to the manufacturers to open their units and start production conforming to the Supreme Court order, most of the units continued with their traditional way of making crackers.
“The market is already flooded with products that do not conform to the concept of green crackers,” he added.
Even the supporters of green crackers among manufacturers were taken aback when the the logo and QR code for green crackers was unveiled. “This is going to hit us very badly, especially in the National Capital Region, as almost all the finished goods have been despatched at least a fortnight back and they do not have any QR code or logo printed on them,” one of them said.
“Even the boxes of fireworks sold in shops in Sivakasi do not have a QR code or logo,” said G. Vinayagamoorthy, president of Meenampatti Small Fireworks Manufacturers’ Association.