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Firecracker manufacturers in suspense as SC to take up hearing next month

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By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai, June 9 (Ajit Weekly News) Like a boy filled with suspense and waiting for the cracker to burst after its fuse was lit, the over 1,000 units of firecracker industry in Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu is waiting in suspense with their fingers crossed.

The final hearing of the case against the industry will be heard by the Supreme Court next month. The Supreme Court’s decision will determine the fate of the industry that feeds about eight lakh families, industry officials told Ajit Weekly News.

“The final hearing is to be held next month. We hope something good happens for the industry and the lakhs of families who are dependent on it. We feel more for the environment, but there is some other interest that is playing against the industry,” A. Asaithambi, President, Sivakasi Fireworks Manufacturers Association (SFMA) told Ajit Weekly News.

Sivakasi in Virudhunagar district in Tamil Nadu accounts for nearly 90 per cent of the country’s firecracker production, and has 1,070 firecracker units located in and around the city.

About 300,000 workers are directly employed whereas another 500,000 workers are in the allied sectors.

Asaithambi said as per a detailed study made by the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IITK), the pollution from firecrackers ranks at 26th, way below of other sectors that contribute to the air pollution of Delhi like the automobile, thermal power stations, construction activities, stubble burning in Punjab and others.

“The industry is being targeted and being made a fall guy,” Asaithambi added.

According to him, crackers are burst for only two days in a year, that is during the Hindu festival Diwali.

“Diwali is the only festival that is being celebrated across the country by crores of people. And firecrackers are an integral part of the festival celebration. Taking that out of the festival will dilute the core spirit,” he added.

Industry officials feel that the apex court was misled about the barium nitrate chemical that is used to manufacture several traditional firecrackers like sparklers, flower pots and others.

Barium nitrate chemical is used by several industries like welding electrodes, tyres and others. Nowhere in the world the use of barium nitrate in making firecrackers has been banned, industry officials told Ajit Weekly News.

According to A. Murali, Executive Committee Member of SFMA and part of Lord Fireworks, the ban on barium nitrate has resulted in straight 30 per cent cut in the production.

With the apex court banning the joint crackers, the industry production is only about 40 per cent of what it used to be, Murali said.

He said the lowest denomination of joint crackers is the small 28 crackers manufactured by 80 per cent of the manufacturers. That got eliminated due to the ban.

“These 28 wala joint crackers are poor men’s crackers, which have almost zero pollutants. They are used for temple festivals, small functions, and even used by farmers to scare away the birds and animals in agricultural fields. Banning them in the name of pollution is a total injustice to them,” Murali said.

S. Srinivasan, a past office bearer of TANFAMA (Tamil Nadu Fireworks & Amorses Manufacturers Association) said: “The Supreme Court of India has been misled on the Permissible Exposure Limit of Barium used in the manufacture of fireworks. In a workplace environment where Barium is used all through the shift for 8 hours or 10 hours, – as in a Barium calcination factory, an industrial unit where Barium laden welding rod is used, a tyre factory there’s continuous emission/discharge of effluents and concentration of Barium in the air and workers are continuously exposed to Barium, the permissible exposure is determined across the globe as 0.5 milligram/cubic meter, in other words as 500 microgram/cubic meter. For 24-hour exposure, the value was reduced by 125 times and wrongly fixed at 4 micrograms per cubic meter. When the court restricted the usage of fireworks only to 2 hours, the error widened.”

Industry officials also question the efficacy of the formulation provided by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to make green crackers.

“The NEERI claims that using its formulation in firecracker manufacturing the emission levels will go down by 30 per cent. The emission reduction is said to be 30 per cent of the earlier levels. This is not scientific,” Asaithambi and other industry officials told Ajit Weekly News.

“The proper scientific way of bringing down the emissions is to fix the maximum levels. The industry will then come out with their products. Without fixing the base level emissions and saying that the use of new formulations would reduce the emissions by 30 per cent is not scientific,” Rajendra Raja, Vice President, Indian Fireworks Manufacturers’ Association, had told Ajit Weekly News.

Asaithambi said the government should lay down the emission/smoke norms so that industry which knows about the chemicals and the product can come out with a solution.

Other industry officials concur with him citing how the norms for noise levels of the firecrackers were brought in.

According to the industry officials, forcing the manufacturers to use the NEERI formulations will result in a monopoly situation.

The production value of firecracker factories in Sivakasi is about Rs 2,500 crore and the retail sales value may be about Rs 6,000 crore.

For a long time, the fireworks industry has been a target in different forms.

First, the manufacturers were targeted for child labour and it was followed up with the noise pollution charge. With the noise pollution issue getting resolved with the laying down of the norms, the industry is being charged with polluting the air.

“The next charge may be that the brightness emitted by the firecrackers are injurious to the human eyes,” commented an industry player.

The industry players and common people are of the view that Hindu festival Diwali is being targeted by vested interests.

Manufacturers say that Sivakasi would have turned into a ghost city long back if firecrackers were the reason for air pollution in Delhi.

On an average, the industry players daily burst around Rs 1,00,000 worth of crackers for testing purposes, but people breathe good air and there are different kinds of birds in Sivakasi, industry officials said.

“The automobile industry was given a long buffer time to shift over to the BS VI emission norms. But the fireworks industry was not given any norms or time to change over,” a manufacturer said.

Asaithambi said the government should lay down the emission/smoke norms so that industry which knows about the chemicals and the product can come out with a solution.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be reached at [email protected])

–Ajit Weekly News
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