KOCHI: Puttingal temple tragedy in Kollam, Kerala, could impact the Rs 5,000 crore domestic firecracker industry, which employs five lakh workers in the factories. About 60% of them are women.
The industry fears, the legal and administrative actions following Kollam tragedy could impact the flourishing firecracker business around Virudhunagar district of Tamil Nadu. It is the main source of livelihood for many women from the villages in Sivakasi and Sattur.
“There are around 840 fire cracker manufacturers in the country and 95 per cent of them are concentrated in Virudhunagar district,” said G Abiruben, President, Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers’ Association.
The first fireworks factory was set up in Sivakasi in 1923. By 1980’s the region witnessed a spurt in number of factories. (see chart). With some exceptions, majority of the companies in the fireworks sector belong to the Micro Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) sector and employs large number of women.
“Women are mainly involved in paper tube making, wire cutting, box making etc,” said Muthusami C, President, Tamilnadu Small and Tiny Industries Association.
Commenting on the safety of workers, Andrew Tang, Deputy Secretary General, International Fireworks Association, said “Individual’s carelessness not the entire industry should be blamed for the Puttingal accident. We can, I hope, learn something from the accident.”
“The explosion at Puttingal happened due to the usage of banned Potassium chlorate, which was built locally,” alleges Abiruben. Some large companies like Standard Fireworks and Sony Fireworks, have manufacturing facility in China as well, he said. The websites of these companies have mention of Chinese facilities to manufacture firecrackers. “If it is true that there was presence of potassium chlorate, it should have been come from China illegally as they use it in fireworks,” alleged Abiruben
He claims that the challenge faced by the pyrotechnic industry in the country is Rs 2,000 crore illegal imports of firecrackers from China and unavailability of raw materials. “The domestic factories are facing scarcity of raw materials due to various restrictions by the government,” said Muthuswami.
He urged that the Centre and State governments to take steps and arrest Chinese imports, that is hurting the local fireworks industry.
Meanwhile, to beat the slowdown in the retail business, the firecracker industry has changed its focus to online sales.
Illegal Dragon act alleged
The websites of large companies like Standard Fireworks and Sony Fireworks have mention of Chinese facilities to manufacture firecrackers. “If it is true that there was presence of potassium chlorate, it should have been come from China illegally,” alleged Abiruben.
Export Push via Thoothukudi
The local fire cracker industry is exporting to South Africa and European countries. The firecracker manufacturers associations are in discussion with the officials to declare Thoothukudi as the nodal port to export fireworks products, to push exports.