Thangaraju lays stress on training for workers, supervisors
Instil the element of surprise among managements of firecracker factories about inspections. This is the advice of C. Thangaraju, the enquiry officer of the 1991 Sivakasi blast, to authorities.
Pointing out that commercial compulsions force the managements to keep on expanding their operations, the 76-year-old Thangaraju, former officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), says the tendency to ignore safety norms is inherent in the attitude of those who run the factories. This is why frequent and periodic visits coupled with sudden inspections assume greater importance.
The managements should be made conscious of the possibility of the authorities inspecting their premises any time,” says the former officer, who retired in 1995 after 32 years in government service.
Qualifying that the conditions prevalent in Sivakasi 21 years ago may not be relevant now, the former IAS officer, an alumnus of Annamalai University, however, stresses the need for adequate training to workers and supervisors of the units regarding different stages in the production of firecracker items such as preparation, mixing of chemicals, storage and transportation. Insurance cover is a must for everyone.
At the same time, Mr. Thangaraju notes that the sector has been providing reliable employment to people of the arid Sivakasi region, which does not have any alternative source of sustainable employment.
On the part of the authorities, there should be coordinated action and a multi-disciplinary team should be in place to monitor the working of the units. Any issue of inadequate staff strength in any of the agencies involved should be addressed immediately.
Recalling his experience of studying the problem, Mr. Thangaraju who had toured various villages in and around Sivakasi for five days, says his brief then had included the issue of child labour. In his enquiry report, he had mentioned that three girls among those died (numbering 39) were underaged. He says it was not an uncommon practice among parents then to mix up age particulars of one of their children with another and this posed a problem in identifying the problem of child labour more precisely.
The report, referring to studies on child labour in Sivakasi, including the one made by the Harban Singh committee, constituted by the State Government in 1978, cited their conclusion that child labour was more common in match works industries than fireworks industries. However, it concluded that “irrespective of its size, the child labour certainly deserves to be totally eliminated in fire works units because of higher risks involved.” Mr. Thangaraju now proudly says that the drive against child labour has only intensified since then.
A senior government official, who visited Sivakasi last week after the blast at the Om Sakthi Fireworks Industries, says among those killed there was no child labourer. In fact, during his trip, the official came across children with school books.