When festivities go up in flames

In the past three months, 10 lives were lost in Kerala in half a dozen fireworks accidents. Unsafe working conditions and unskilled workers imperil lives in the fireworks industry. Licences are misused for heavy production. Authorities seldom take note of blatant violations. It’s a powder keg, waiting to explode.

Updated - March 10, 2023 01:05 pm IST

Published - March 10, 2023 12:22 am IST - THRISSUR 

A view of firecracker storage explosion site at Muttinakam in Varapuzha, near Kochi. The blast on February 28 claimed one life.

A view of firecracker storage explosion site at Muttinakam in Varapuzha, near Kochi. The blast on February 28 claimed one life. | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Half a dozen firework accidents have claimed 10 lives in the past three months in Kerala. It’s a clear indication that the safety aspect of fireworks, which mesmerise thousands, is not up to the mark. Frequent accidents have cast a shadow over these spectacular shows just a few weeks ahead of a slew of major festivals, including the Thrissur Pooram. 

Five persons, two at a temple near Thrissur and three in Sabarimala, died last December in kathina (a type of firework with a loud sound) explosions. One person died at Kundannur, Thrissur, in a fireworks unit explosion in January. One person was killed in Vadakkencherry in Palakkad when palm-leaf crackers burst in February. Another Kathina accident at a temple near Varavur in Thrissur claimed two lives in the same month. In the latest accident, also in February, a person was killed in an explosion at a fireworks storage unit at Varapuzha in Ernakulam.

Unsafe working conditions, unskilled workers, and rampant violation of rules endanger lives in the fireworks industry. Irresponsible handling of explosives, including overloading or spillage while filling the chemical compositions, often lead to explosions. 

Ripples 10 km away

A huge explosion rocked Kundannur, otherwise a sleepy village, in Thrissur district, on January 30. A fireworks unit, which allegedly stocked tonnes of explosive materials, exploded, killing a worker. The pellets of amittu (aerial fireworks), spread for drying, caught fire. The reverberations of the blast were felt up to a distance of 10 km. Many buildings, including a school and a church and 30-odd houses around the area, were damaged.

Unfortunately, the villagers are still living on a ticking bomb as the authorities have not defused the unexploded fireworks even a month after the accident. It is reported that around 2,000 kg of explosive material are being stocked in a sealed store with police protection. 

Disaster at ‘mini Sivakasi’

Fireworks accidents are not new for Kundannur, which has earned the nickname of ‘mini Sivakasi’ for its many fireworks manufacturing units. The village has witnessed at least four major blasts in the past, claiming a few lives. Most of the fireworks units in the State function in makeshift tents with unskilled workers, says V.K. Venkitachalam, secretary of the Heritage Animal Task Force, which fights illegal practices in the fireworks industry. “Many houses in Thrissur and Palakkad districts are functioning as cottage industries of fireworks. They are supplied with the raw materials to make palm-leaf crackers and cases for making gundu.” 

After the Puttingal temple accident that claimed 111 lives, aerial fireworks like amittu, dynamite, gundu and kuzhi minnal have been banned in the State. It’s the district magistrate who gives permission to use up to 15 kg of explosives for making Meshappoo and Thalachakram (colourful, soundless). Only Thrissur Pooram used to get special permission to display more fireworks with a few of the aerial ones, noted Mr. Venkitachalam. 

Situation at Thrissur Pooram

There is an underground magazine for storing fireworks for the Thrissur Pooram. The spacious Thekkinkadu maidan provides sufficient distance between the fireworks display and the viewers. It also has a fire hydrant in case of emergency. 

“But misusing the district magistrate’s permission for using 15 kg explosives, large quantities of fireworks are being produced all over the State. There are around 30 such units in Thrissur district alone. They stock tonnes of explosive materials. The guidelines are violated in the absence of regular monitoring and inspection by the police or licensing authorities,” he alleged. 

Various institutions, which conduct fireworks displays violating the guidelines of thePetroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO) and the district administration, have to be blamed, he added. 

At Uthralikkavu Pooram

In a complaint sent to authorities, the Heritage Animal Task Force alleged that huge amounts of explosive materials were used for fireworks in the recently held Uthralikkavu Pooram by misusing the licence (for using 15 kg) given by the district magistrate. 

However, Marath Vijayan, chief patron of the Engakkad Desam, one of the three main organisers of the Uthralikkavu Pooram, denied the allegations. “We hold the fireworks display according to the guidelines. Moreover, the display was conducted in the presence of a large posse of police and Revenue officials,” he said. 

PESO’s stance

According to PESO sources, the district magistrate, the licensing authority for fireworks not exceeding 15 kg, has the responsibility to ensure that there is no violation of rules. There should be timely monitoring in fireworks units. PESO will provide safety guidelines and necessary technical support, they said.

“Carelessness or mishandling of explosives has been a major reason for the accidents. Though traditional manufacturers may be trained in handling fireworks, newcomers to the industry handle them recklessly. We are thinking of providing awareness sessions in association with PESO and the Fire and Rescue Services, for those who handle the fireworks,” said Thrissur District Collector Haritha V. Kumar. She added that the stored explosives in Kundannur would be defused with the support of PESO.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.