Most of the fireworks units in Sivakasi have commenced production for 2010 Deepavali with lot of optimism. Putting behind the traumatic months of 2009 that witnessed a series of accidents and consequent closure, the industry looks forward to a better Deepavali next year.
Two of the main problems haunting the industry are paucity of skilled labour and a flourishing parallel production. Several factors contribute to depletion of skilled labour. Absence of a training institute, migration of workers, lack of technical expertise among those who handle fireworks and officials responsible for enforcement of Explosives Rules and, more importantly, absence of a mechanism to regulate sale and use of raw materials are some of the major issues confronting the industry. Frequent accidents in the region in cracker units this year have created a fear psychosis among the labour force which now prefers work assigned under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to exposure to hazardous chemicals. The industry is also very slow in accepting mechanisation, especially in areas where hazardous chemicals are handled manually.
Some of the leading manufacturers have forged ahead in mechanising their production. A. P. Selvarajan, past president, Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers’ Association (TANFAMA), who has mechanised mixing and filling process, says that there is no need to depend on overseas technology and machinery now.
Machines are available at affordable cost in India, he points out. To speed up innovation in technology and fabrication of machinery, institutions like Mepco Schlenk Engineering College have taken up research projects under industry-institute collaboration.
Mr. Selvarajan has initiated a series of workshops on safety in manufacturing units at Sri Kaliswari College where workers are exposed to international safety practices in fireworks industry.
A training institute and a testing centre for fireworks are the felt needs of Sivakasi. At present, a greenhorn is inducted initially into non-hazardous process and asked to observe the hazardous process. It is hands-on training for the new recruits. The industry as a whole survives on the experience of seniors who have inherited knowledge on the combination of chemicals. Even the decibel levels of crackers are heard orally by these seniors at open test sites. A common testing facility, to determine the quality of both raw materials and finished goods, will help to prevent accidents due to faulty handling, says Mr. Selvarajan. Deficiency of knowledge is not an attribute of workers only but even of some manufacturers and officials, feels S. Srinivasan, joint secretary, TANFAMA.
“The range of items manufactured, the chemicals used, process sequence and methods adopted and the resultant colours and effect produced are so high and complex that acquire a deeper understanding of pyrotechnic chemistry,” says Mr. Srinivasan. Lack of knowledge forces the licensee to lease out his work sheds, which is specifically prohibited under the Explosives Rules. In stray cases, even tree shades are used as ‘work sheds’ in villages around Sivakasi. Units that allow more than four people to work in a shed are potential candidates for accidents.
Mr. Srinivasan wants amendment to the relevant rules to ensure that only a person with adequate knowledge of pyrotechnic chemistry is granted licence to manufacture fireworks. Mr. Selvarajan is for creation of common facilities for training, testing and storage and increased mechanisation of process in individual units. In the absence of resource materials for manufacture of fireworks, as most of the items now are “copied” and improved upon, there is a need for starting a pyrotechnic research centre in Sivakasi, manufacturers feel.