Recurring incidents of explosions at such units in State point to a laxity on part of authorities to enforce laws

Recurring incidents of explosions at firecracker units in the State appear to have much to do with the laxity on the part of the enforcement authorities in conducting periodic inspections to ensure proper maintenance of stocks by the cracker units.

Under the laws, Revenue, Police and Fire and Rescue Services authorities should conduct periodic inspections at the units to examine whether the units have stored explosive material, mainly potassium nitrate, beyond the permitted limits. Licences for the cracker units are issued by Additional District Magistrates on getting no-objection certificates from the police, Fire and Rescue Services, the tehsildar and the Controller of Explosives.

Official sources told The Hindu here on Saturday that over-burdened as they were with too many official chores, the enforcement officials, mainly the Revenue Department personnel and the police, did not conduct such inspections to verify the stocks maintained by the units.

This often gave sufficient leeway to the units to exceed the prescribed limits.

The Controller of Explosives’ regional office based in Kochi does not have an enforcement wing. The regional office has powers to clear applications for storing only up to 25 kg. of explosives. Applicants who need to store up to 100 kg. of explosive should move the Chennai office and those wishing to store above that limit will have to get the approval from the Controller’s office at Nagpur.

While workers’ negligence is key to such accidents, the general tendency of cracker unit owners to store excessive quantities cannot be overlooked.

Unlike in Tamil Nadu where cracker units function as a major industry round the year, the units in the State concentrate mainly on the Deepavali, Vishu and the regional temple festivals.

They become fully functional only during the festival season. Meticulous inspection can be conducted during the festive seasons to check over-stocking and also avert accidents.

There are also practical problems in maintaining the registers. For, the labourers, mainly women, working in such units are not duly educated and hence recording the quantities used every day is not practically possible. Stringent norms have been laid down for issuing the licence.

Hence, the units tend to adopt short cuts to evade the law.

All units start functioning only on getting a valid licence, but they do not tend to renew it as the law mandates. This is mainly due to the legal procedures involved in renewing the licence.

Considering the practical problems faced by the units, time has come to amend the Indian Explosive Act.

The amendments should be made without diluting its significance, but due importance should be given to the operational issues at the grassroots, the sources said.

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