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Fireworks industry feels the heat

S. Sundar
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Following action by licensing agencies after explosion that killed 40 persons

Quick and skilful:A worker packing crackers at Sivakasi.— file photo
Quick and skilful:A worker packing crackers at Sivakasi.— file photo

: The explosion at Om Sakthi Fireworks near Sivakasi that killed 40 persons on September 5, 2012 shook the nation. And the subsequent action by various licensing agencies has rattled the fireworks industry.

For the first time, the big names of the industry are feeling the heat.

The immediate action by the State Government was to inspect all the 689 licensed cracker units. While majority of the units were served show cause notices for minor violations of safety norms, the licenses of 63 units were suspended just before Deepavali.

And this time, revoking of licenses took unusually a longer duration. Fireworks production was hit. The units were unable to meet the orders for the festival.

Things did not change for the industry even after Deepavali. For, the Union Government too was keen on finding the fact behind the accidents. It also constituted a team to study the industry. The Department of Inspectorate of Factories has started second round of inspection of the units. Simultaneously, the pressure on officials of Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) showed up as Chief Controller of Explosives prescribed a new set of safety measures. The fireworks industry feels that many of the safety features were “impractical” and were capital intensive in nature. “We have been fighting to declare us as toy cracker industry. But, the measures likely to be imposed on us are attempting to make the industry on par with those making high explosives,” says, A. Asaithambi, an office-bearer of Tamil Nadu Fire Works and Amorces Manufacturers’ Association (TANFAMA).

Their main contention is that the units strictly adhering to the safety norms were being penalised for all the faults of the units that grossly violate safety norms leading to accidents and lack of manpower with the PESO to check them. The PESO is handicapped as it has only four officials to inspect all the 689 cracker units in the district along with all the petrol pumps in 10 districts.

Gross negligence

“The Muthalipatti accident was triggered by large-scale negligence of safety norms which was a resultant of the practice of illegally leasing out the units. But, the officials are ignoring this fact and are forcing the strict- followers of rules with new safety norms,” complains another TANFAMA functionary, Mariappan.

The TANFAMA and The Indian Fireworks Manufacturers’ Association feel that most of the accidents were only because of violation of existing norms which were sufficient enough to regulate the cracker units.

“What the industry needs is not any additional safety feature, but strict monitoring of implementation of the established rules,” he adds. The industrialists complain that the Explosives Department is not bothered about the units for which the District Revenue Officer has given licence.

Revenue officials claim that they do not have the complete knowledge to inspect the fireworks units. Besides, they were not willing to touchunlicensed units, which were growing by leaps and bounds. “The size of the illegal unit is estimated to be around Rs. 800 crore. Should that not be stopped before the officials look for mere violations in our units,” TANFAMA president, S.S. Vijayakumar, asks.

With no need to pay tax, the illegal units were paying huge wages for the employees. “With such an opportunity beckoning them, we are not able to discipline workers. When we try to implement certain safety norms, they leave us. We are in a tight spot as we have to manage with the available workforce,” Mr. Mariappan says.

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