VIRUDHUNAGAR: The once-sparkling ‘Kutty Japan’ is now engulfed in gloom, as the cracker industry is heading towards a bleak future. Blame it on the Coronavirus and various government decisions. Nationwide, there are nearly 1.5 crore people - from dealers to street vendors, to loadmen - who are directly or indirectly linked to the industry.
President of Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers' Association Ganesan Panjurajan said the units were reopened after a gap of 43 days and the Standard Operating Procedure stated that only 50 per cent of workers were allowed.
"This led to a reduction in our manufacturing by 30 per cent. The industry normally manufactures around Rs 2,000-crore-worth products a year. This year the net production is just worth Rs 1,400 crore. Of this, nearly 60 per cent will be distributed on a credit basis," he said.
With bans and restrictions imposed a week before Deepavali - when 90 per cent of the products will be out for sales - the credit amount has been stuck. With supply of the product reaching the street vendor, the last part of the supply chain, all those involved are worried, said industrialists.
Manufacturers are posing only one question to the social activists and the governments that have imposed a ban : "Why didn’t they raise the concern earlier so that we could manufactured less?" The question is validated by two reasons.
One is the huge amount of investment locked. "Cracker sales is a seasonal business. We usually take this profit and pay interests and invest in the next seasonal business. Now, there is no way to move forward," says Ganesan.
General secretary of Tamil Nadu Fireworks Traders' Association Elangovan said, "Not selling the products means, we have to store them safely. The products have been distributed to wholesale dealers, retail dealers, shop owners, street vendors and others. Many households have already purchased crackers. How will they safely store the products?"
Amid cries of industrialists and dealers on stockpiling of goods, there is a section completely at loss — the labourers. Roughly 8 lakh direct and indirect employees are involved in the cracker industry. The direct employees receive between Rs 250-Rs 300 per day (women) and Rs 350-Rs 400 per day (men) during normal times. In addition, they will be provided a bonus twice a year.
While 21-day payment is the government norm, most units provide nearly two months' salary as bonus. "During the lockdown period, each worker was provided relief materials and Rs 1,000 per week,” said sources.
"We received our regular salary and bonus this year. But nobody has a clue about the resumption of our units," said Thamaraikani, a labourer. Most of the labourers in the industry know only this work. The work requires a level of specialisation that others can’t easily acquire. If this job is lost, we do not know any other work, said a labourer.