Tamil Nadu

Green crackers: Short on sound and light, high on confusion

The sky on the night of October 27 may not be the usual riot of colours and noise levels in the neighbourhood may be lower than normal. The dilemma over green crackers seems to have robbed, if not Deepavali, then the fireworks industry in Sivakasi of its sheen. Confusion over the transition to green crackers in the town, which is the hub of the fireworks industry, has resulted in delayed production and reluctant distribution of crackers.

Green crackers: Short on sound and light, high on confusion
 

Currently, the fireworks industry in India is pegged at ₹1,800 crore per annum. The business done by illegal units is estimated at ₹2,000 crore. Nearly 20 lakh people across the country earn their livelihood by engaging themselves in transporting, storing, distributing and selling fireworks on a permanent basis. Another 80 lakh people are involved in selling fireworks through temporary licences (for 30 days) during the Deepavali season.

 

The story dates back to 2015 when three children from New Delhi knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court complaining about air pollution during Deepavali. Initially, the apex court did not ban crackers. But, when it did, it was not only in New Delhi, but in the entire National Capital Region (NCR) for Deepavali 2018.

Watch | What are 'green' crackers?

Crippling blow

Subsequently, the Supreme Court withdrew its ban, but dropped a bomb on the fireworks industry when it banned barium nitrate, an important raw material, and also crackers that are joined together, a substantial part of the business. “This order has crippled the industry as it cannot make almost 80% of its regular products,” say Sivakasi manufacturers who closed their units for over 100 days from November 2018, appealing to the Union and State governments to save them.

 

“We do agree that pollution, which is at an alarmingly high level, should be reduced in NCR. But we oppose the move to make fireworks the scapegoat,” says K. Mariappan, former president of Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers’ Association (TANFAMA). The major pollutants in New Delhi are emissions from thermal power stations, stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana, vehicular emission and the construction industry. “Except for stubble burning, other factors are perpetual. However, fireworks that are used only on Deepavali day have been made the villain,” Mr. Mariappan says.

He claims that the Central Pollution Control Board misled the Supreme Court and, in its fight against pollution, eventually recommended banning of barium nitrate. It also felt that bursting joined crackers produced “huge solid waste”.

Green crackers: Short on sound and light, high on confusion

It is at this point that the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), the licensing body for fireworks units, pointed out that at least 80% of fireworks could not be produced if barium nitrate and joined crackers were banned. Despite this, the Union government, represented by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, stood its ground on banning barium nitrate.

In the meanwhile, a CSIR institution— National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI)— promised to come up with alternatives that could produce ‘green’ crackers or improved crackers without barium nitrate. But PESO did not inform the court of the long-drawn process to approve newer products, manufacturers claim.

“PESO has to carry out 13 different tests on physical and chemical properties, friction and impact sensitivity of new products. The important test is on stability of composition under changing climate. For this, the product has to be tested throughout the year before it gets final approval,” a manufacturer points out. For a licence from NEERI for the new formulations, one has to get the mandatory approval of PESO to carry out production.

Worst crisis

As a result, the fireworks hub is facing its worst-ever crisis this year as manufacturers have not been able to produce ‘green’ crackers with the new formula provided by NEERI. Many have not even got the licence to manufacture such crackers. According to experts and estimates, the industry will run into a ₹800-1,000 crore loss this year. “Only 3-4% of the total production will be green crackers,” says the managing director of one of the top five cracker brands in the town. “Don’t quote me please. This is a court issue and we don’t want to antagonise the Central government and kill this industry,” he adds.

Another reason why many manufacturers do not want to be quoted is because the stakeholders are having an internal fight among themselves. Whether the industry is able to produce ‘green’ crackers or not, the attempt to switch over to cleaner crackers itself has led to a virtual split in the manufacturing fraternity. A source tells us that TANFAMA members have split into small groups since March. “One section supports NEERI while another opposes it. The third section feels that it will go ahead with the old procedure and not bother about green crackers,” the source adds. “Rather than arriving at a solution, the difference of opinion is widening,” he laments. Many have not signed the memorandum of understanding with NEERI. There is also opposition to the non-disclosure agreement that NEERI insists on.

Green crackers: Short on sound and light, high on confusion

Ganesan Panjurajan, director of Vinayaka Sony Fireworks Group and president of TANFAMA, says that many units are making ‘green’ crackers. There is no difficulty in making them and they will help the industry grow, he adds.

“When cellphones first came in we were reluctant to accept them but today everyone has a cellphone. Likewise, things will change in the fireworks industry too,” he says and adds, “Only 1-2 % of green crackers have gone with certification. The rest are green crackers that have gone without certification.”

According to him, production is down 40% this season due to the 100-day closure of units. The pricing of green crackers will be on a par with normal crackers. In 2020, the industry will completely migrate to green crackers, he adds.

To a query on whether there is any difference of opinion among members of TANFAMA, he says, “There is no fight. There are some manufacturers who have said that they will wait till they get a clear directive from the Supreme Court. The industry will continue to grow and have a long life.”

The manager of another fireworks unit, which hasbeen in existence for over three decades, says that this is the first instance of friction among unit owners. He adds that he does not have the time to make crackers using NEERI formula. “Thirty percent of the consignment that I have sent out is from last year’s stock while the remaining was made in the last five months,” he says. The 100-day shutdown meant that the industries started production late for this festive season.

P.C.A. Asaithambi, partner of Lord Fireworks, says, “We are worried and concerned about the current situation. I would say there was sufficient time to make green crackers.” But many manufacturers complain that organisations like CPCB and PESO did not help the industry get a gestation period from the apex court to switch over to ‘green’ crackers. Mr. Mariappan recalls that the fireworks industry faced a similar crisis in the late 1990s when the issue of noise pollution was raised. The Supreme Court then gave them enough time for a smooth transition. It took five years for PESO to come up with formulations for producing crackers with noise not exceeding 125 decibels from a distance of four metres. The industry has completely adopted the policy on noise pollution.

Many mid-sized units say that they want to sail safely this Deepavali and think of ‘green’ crackers next year. One of them points out: “The agencies recommending use of green crackers have tested samples in small labs. What we do here is in bulk, which is quite different. Also, we are not clear on whether our products will have a longer shelf life if we use the new formula,” he adds.

Those opposing ‘green’ crackers claim that very few have got approval from PESO to produce such crackers with formulations given by NEERI. “Even the approvals were given only in July/August 2019, barely 100 days ahead of Deepavali. How could these few manufacturers cater to the entire nation?” one of them argues.

However, the other group claims that they have produced a handsome quantity of improved crackers, though the manufacturers are not ready to divulge details on quantity and number of products. Neither the shops selling crackers nor the fireworks boxes have any distinct identification marks for ‘green’ crackers. “Unlike the claim of many manufacturers, there is no blanket ban on barium nitrate. We infer from the order that barium nitrate in reduced quantity and with other specific additives suggested by NEERI is permitted by the apex court,” says a leading manufacturer.

All those who got licence from NEERI have conducted trials of their improved formulations. “The trials have proved that emissions have reduced by up to 35%. But, the problem is with PESO that refuses to give approval for production as it wants a final order on use of barium nitrate from the Supreme Court,” the manufacturer adds.

Cost a concern

Another point raised by manufacturers is that the ₹30,000 one-time licence fee can go up and other charges like testing fee for newer products will cost the industry more and hit small-scale units. They contend that the 80-year-old fireworks industry is working with proper licences and all its units, raw materials and products are duly approved by PESO under Explosives Rules. But the section that supports NEERI says that it will bring discipline. Besides, the logo and QR code on packages will help the industry eliminate illegal production of crackers.

Virudhunagar MP Manickam Tagore says the Centre and State government are responsible for the present crisis in the industry that employs close to a million people across the country. “The negativity in the mind of a large section of bureaucrats and NGOs in New Delhi is that fireworks is all about child labour and pollution. This is ruining an established industry. But the Centre and State have failed to get necessary relief from the Supreme Court in the form of adequate time for a smooth transition to green fireworks,” he says.

Green crackers: Short on sound and light, high on confusion
 

However, Sadhana Rayalu, chief scientist and head, Environmental Materials Division, NEERI, clarifies that nearly 230 MoUs and 165 non-disclosure agreements have been signed with fireworks manufactures to facilitate hand-holding for smooth transition. Nearly 530 emission testing certificates have been issued for new and improved formulations, meeting the stipulated guidelines of ‘green’ crackers.

Manufacturers have been approaching PESO for approval and final authorisation to manufacture ‘green’ crackers since March. A list of 28 manufacturers approved by PESO to produce green crackers has been released.


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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 9:44:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/green-crackers-short-on-sound-and-light-high-on-confusion/article29747151.ece

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