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Deepavali 2022: Sound and fury of festive lights

Several industries use barium in their day-to-day operations, and such sectors have not been called out for adding to environmental hazards.

Deepavali 2022: Sound and fury of festive lights
Girls from Sarvodaya girls hostel in Chetpet, Chennai burst crackers and enjoy Deepavali.

CHENNAI: Deepavali has once again cast a pall of gloom in Sivakasi, the source of 90% of firecrackers sold in India. While two years ago, it was the pandemic that had caused the sales of firecrackers to dip, this time around, environmental concerns and short-sighted mandates enforced by many States regarding the use of firecrackers have dented earnings.

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The sector has only one season to recoup its investments and put food on the table of its staffers, who support 5 lakh families. But it is now faced with blanket bans in various regions.

New Delhi’s administration has restricted the sale and use of all types of firecrackers including green crackers until January 2023, owing to poor air quality. A similar ban has been imposed in Haryana, while Punjab, W Bengal and Telangana have permitted only green crackers within restricted hours. In Tamil Nadu, firecrackers have been allowed for an hour each on Deepavali.

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Production of firecrackers has also dipped by 50 per cent due to the Supreme Court’s 2018 ban on the use of barium nitrate in crackers. While demand will be high this year, prices of the crackers have gone up by 40-50 per cent. This is because the use of alternative chemicals like strontium nitrate has pushed up production costs by 50-60%, as the chemical must be imported from China or Spain.

Products made using barium nitrate had a shelf life of 10 years, whereas the green crackers, which absorb more moisture, barely last six months.

The ban on barium nitrate had a direct hit on the workforce too which went down by 50 per cent. There are about two lakh workers directly employed in the fireworks sector, who are distributed in 1,200 odd-units in Sivakasi. The industry had a business volume in excess of Rs 6,000 cr just a few years ago.

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However, owing to consequent body blows, trade volumes have plummeted to under Rs 3,500 cr presently. The absence of a powerful industry lobby has made the business a soft target.

Several industries use barium in their day to day operations, and such sectors have not been called out for adding to environmental hazards.

Experts say even in a highly polluted city like Delhi with an ambient air quality index reading over 200, a two-hour restriction on the use of firecrackers can help reduce the emission from fireworks by 30 pc. Other States could provide a larger window for bursting fireworks than the two hour norm, the industry believes. The irony of targeting fireworks companies for a one-day festival when pollution levels are constantly high throughout the year, is not lost on the workers.

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So how do we solve this problem? The government could consider offering the sector certain privileges to boost exports. Chinese businesses cater to 90% of the firecracker demand globally, but India could make an impact here.

Opening up an export route via Colombo, which has currently blacklisted fireworks from being shipped there, could present new opportunities to India.

The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) will shortly be setting up an emission testing laboratory for green fireworks products in Sivakasi.

This will be done at a cost of Rs 7.5 crore of which Rs 4.5 crore will be the Centre’s contribution while Rs 3 crore will be pitched by the manufacturers. The lab will be a godsend for fireworks manufacturers who were facing hurdles in sending products for tests to the NEERI laboratory in Nagpur.

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