Sivakasi stares at dark Diwali as Supreme Court barium ban in fireworks units continues

Fireworks manufacturers in Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu, are very concerned that the Supreme Court’s ruling ban on barium in the fireworks industry could take away the glitz in the upcoming Diwali season. The highest court had banned the use of barium in fireworks in 2018 and this was reaffirmed in 2021, bringing the fireworks industry into Sivakasi – the country’s fireworks center – and directly employing about three lakh workers in about 1,000 organized units there, in a tight spot. After the SC reaffirmed the ban in 2021, many of the stakeholders filed suit in the ban lifting case.

A Murali, a core committee member of the Sivakasi Fireworks Manufacturers Association, told FE that the barium ban is unfounded – imposed without scientific research into its potentially dangerous impact related to the pollution.

“We are fine with banning all crackers except the green crackers, we have the technical know-how and are working with NEERI to go green. Our problem is completely banning barium, even in the production of green crackers. After the crackers ban in 2018, which allowed the green crackers, we had the impression that we could use barium as a mix when making the green crackers. But by 2021, the SC had reaffirmed the total ban on barium in the fireworks industry,” he said.

He said last year’s Diwali sales were not affected as much as the clarification order came last week in October, by the time production and shipment were completed. “Having said that, I have to say that sales have declined since the 2018 ban,” he said.

According to him, barium is one of the main oxidizing agents for most fireworks and the ban doesn’t allow them to make many products. “After the ban, my factories are running at 50% capacity and have reduced production by 50% to 60%, which clearly had an impact on the business. For example, I have a group of companies that employ 450 to 500 people and after the ban I could only employ 200 people,” he said.

Fireworks manufacturers believe the industry has been a soft target for environmentalists and authorities in the name of controlling pollution. It all started with the smog in Delhi of recent years. The onset of smog is prominent during Diwali days. In ruling on a civil petition in the Arjun Gopal & others v Union of India case, the Supreme Court found that while fireworks are not the main cause of air quality deterioration in Delhi and NCR, they certainly exacerbate the situation. †

Murali said there are three lakh people employed in the Sivakasi belt alone, with another four lakh indirectly supplying raw materials such as chemicals and circuit boards. “We are being targeted because of the tone and cry of the environmentalists in the name of pollution, although other sectors also use barium in various production activities. I have to say that we are the weaker adversary and are being made scapegoats,” he said.

On October 23, 2018, the Supreme Court banned the use of fireworks other than the green crackers – which would reduce emissions by 30%. The manufacture of joint crackers and the use of barium, an important chemical in the manufacture of various fireworks articles and sparklers, were also banned. The use of fireworks was only allowed for two hours on the day of festivals such as Diwali and New Year.

The chairman of the Sivakasi Fireworks Manufacturers Association, A Asaithambi, said emissions standards for fireworks should be set by involving manufacturers and the ban on the use of barium should be lifted. “The manufacture of joint crackers is already permitted under the 2008 explosives rules in such a way that the noise of individual crackers does not exceed the noise nuisance standard. This condition must be restored. As for Delhi or any other place where the air quality index exceeds 200, the current two-hour stipulation for bursting crackers will itself help reduce fireworks emissions by 30%. For the rest of the country, the two-hour restriction should be relaxed,” he said.

With the ban, many organized players believe manufacturing has turned into a bootlegger’s paradise, and workers are migrating to illegal manufacturers because they want jobs that endanger their safety.

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