With Diwali approaching and the country’s pollution levels skyrocketing, some states have taken it upon themselves to regulate the usage of firecrackers during the festival. Cracker bans, restrictions and guidelines have already been announced in a number of states and union territories.
The Delhi Pollution Control Committee on September 28 announced a ban on the sale and bursting of firecrackers in the national capital until January 1, 2022, covering the occasions of Christmas and New Year as well. The reasons cited were air pollution and the possibility of a surge in Covid-19 cases in the aftermath of the celebrations. Delhi has been one of the most hit regions due to the use of firecrackers.
With the onset of winter, the smog becomes more hazardous in Delhi amid the celebrations. The ban has been regular for the past few years. However, a severe violation of the ban by the people is a common sight to see. The air quality index always surges after Diwali. Last year, the air quality was in the severe category recording Air Quality Index (AQI) as high as 444.
However, these cracker bans, often, do not consider one important aspect. The cracker-making business is a widespread industry that employs a significant number of unskilled labours. The firecracker business is one of the most profitable ones during the festive season in India. While cracker bans have made it harder for these businesses, it has also trickled down as a threat to livelihood to many in the hub of crackers, Sivakasi.
Sivakasi – India’s Firecracker Capital
Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu is touted as the place from where almost 90% of India acquires its crackers. Sivakasi is solely known for this and the entire city is involved in making crackers, matchboxes, and other printing work like notebooks and diaries. The entire economy of the state is dependent on these three manufacturing industries.
As of 2020, the city has 1,070 registered firecracker manufacturers. It, directly and indirectly, employs close to 10 lakh people every year, with an estimated revenue of around Rs 5,000 crore. Although, these workers are often children. And, incidents of fire hazards are a usual threat to the population there.
Irregularities in manufacturing and negligence have caused multiple fire accidents killing a huge number of people every year. One as recent as 2016, where a major fire breakout took the lives of 8 people and injured many others. And, we keep seeing more and more incidents where children and women keep losing their lives to such accidents.
It is imperative that the industry thus needs to have a proper mechanism and redressal units where all of these could be tackled. Following such incidents, the Virudhunagar district collector set up five units that would be inspecting how the fire units work, and the teams would comprise members from various departments like health and industrial safety.
While the health hazard continues to exist, the cracker bans do not ensure that these are taken care of. The cracker bans affect the economic conditions of the city and the numerous distributors set across the country.
Hit On Revenue And Livelihood
The foremost thing to understand is, the firecracker industry is not an organized corporate world. The manufacturers indulge in unskilled labour, thus the employment is usually on the basis of demand. Or, in some cases, the payment is based on the number of products created by each person.
This has created a sense of ambiguity amongst the workers. The non-frequent bans and last-minute announcements make it difficult for them to manage their life or prepare stocks. While the manufacturers face this issue, the bigger blow is taken by the distributors and vendors across the country.
According to shopkeepers orders are made well in advance with manufacturers in Sivakasi so that there is enough stock before the festive season commences. But, the last-minute bans make it a no-way route for the vendors as they are left with surplus stock.
It is estimated that after the bans of last year, there was an estimated loss of Rs 500 – 800 crores for the entire industry. These affect the people in the lower chain the most.
These daily wage workers used to make Rs 600 – 800 every year. However, now it has dropped down to 400 a year. While these are seasonal tasks, the annual income of families is severely affected subsequently leading to a poor lifestyle.
Women workers have been losing jobs or paid minimal amounts for everyday labour, leading to the threat of poverty ahead.
The recurring question amongst everyone involved in the chain is, ‘Why are there more bans when there are regulations on selling green crackers?’
The Supreme Court in 2018, banned sales, distribution, and bursting of any firecrackers across the country. It only allowed green crackers to be circulated only by licensed traders. This was the first act that made the lives of people relying on the firecracker industry ambiguous and doubtful. However, later the court also observed there needs to be a better organization of the bans as one cannot kill jobs of the industry.
Early this year, Chennai Chief Minister MK Stalin wrote to the chief ministers of Haryana, Rajasthan, Odisha, and Delhi to allow green crackers as they follow the guidelines of the National Green Tribunal.
The sale of green crackers in other regions, however, gave a little relief for the workers in Sivakasi. But, the problem still pertains. These bans and stricter regulations are surely a way to curb pollution amidst the looming danger of climate change. Amidst this, it is necessary to keep the workers who are involved in the production and distribution of crackers while plans and decisions are made. Their employment and livelihoods should also be part of the discussions of going green this Diwali.