Spurious fireworks show industry in a poor light

MADURAI OCT. 13. In Sivakasi parlance, they are called `safe fireworks'. When ignited, only the fuse burns. Still they flood the market during the festival season, as the unsuspecting buyer does not insist on brand items. The `parallel industry' shows the Sivakasi fireworks in a poor light. The compromise on quality, involvement of children in some stages of manufacture, tax evasion and other violations of rules by illegal manufacturers cast a slur on the industry as a whole.

The root of the problem is in easy access to raw materials. Potassium nitrate, barium nitrate, charcoal and sulphur are readily available in the market. While barium nitrate is manufactured in several places across the country, potassium nitrate is produced in Haryana and Punjab. Charcoal comes from Ramanathapuram and East Virudhunagar areas. The unlicensed manufacturers buy the raw materials from traders, without proper documents, according to leading industrialists of Sivakasi. The main units use sulphur with 99.8 per cent purity, while the illegal establishments go for the chemical with 96 per cent purity, used mainly for agriculture. For middlemen, involved right from purchase of raw materials to loading consignments into lorries, it is a thriving business.

Hazards, accidents

The clandestine transport of the chemicals across Virudhunagar district has led to several accidents. Almost all occupants of a private bus died, over 40 days, as the vehicle went up in flames near Palavanatham when a consignment of potassium nitrate caught fire. At Sivakasi, the occupants of a house were killed when illegally-stocked chemicals exploded at night.

The chemicals purchased from traders are handed over to the illegal units or houses in villages around Sivakasi for the manufacture of fireworks. In the process, children in the households freely handle the hazardous chemicals.

The `parallel industry' products carry brands, which resemble that of the leaders. Since these units need not contribute to the ESIC scheme or pay duty or taxes, the profit margin is high and so is the corruption involved, allege the legal manufacturers.

Middlemen provide the fuse

Manufacture of fireworks at homes in Sivakasi villages has been made possible, thanks to a shortage of `fuse' used for ignition.

As the licensed units find it difficult to meet the demand for fuse, they buy wicks from outside. Women producing fuses, as a household activity, are a common sight in the villages. To avoid dependence on outsiders to meet the demand, the industry leaders have started mechanising fuse production. However, since the demand is so huge, the manufacturers have to depend on middlemen for the supply. But the middlemen, in the guise of making fuses, facilitate the manufacture of other items also.

The free availability of the raw materials can be curbed by making it mandatory for manufacturing units to sell the products directly to the fireworks factories which have valid registration certificates, instead of to traders, says A. P. Selvarajan, former president, Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association.

He also insists that the full address of the manufacturer be printed on the labels of all products. While the market leaders have warded off the challenge from the illegal manufacturers by enhancing their quality and by mechanisation, the small and medium producers find it difficult to compete with the illegally-made items.

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