“Haley’s comet may come and go
But fireworks, fireworks are forever”
Diwali brings joy of happiness and a euphoric zeal to all countrymen spread across different nooks and corners of the world. With its over the top delectable set of delicacies, sharing of sweets and gifts between friends and lighting to sparkle your eyes, Diwali comes with its own set of reasons of bliss for the young and old alike. But above all that, Diwali is characterised by its captivating and enthralling charm of display of light and fire. With fireworks and crackers being an integral and essential part of the biggest festival of the country, here is a look at the equally important Fireworks industry of India.
The Indian Fireworks industry boasts of over 6000-crore worth of annual turnover. At an annual growth rate of about 10 percent, it is providing employment opportunities to over 5 lakh families directly or indirectly. While a smaller fraction of these are directly involved in firework factories work, a larger portion is concerned with jobs like paper tube making, wire cutting, box making in the countryside. The fireworks sector consists of over 500 industries and 60 ancillary units that are dependent on these industries. The chemicals used for these fireworks vary from the conventional gunpowder and iron fillings to present day ones like potassium nitrate, barium and strontium nitrates, aluminium and magnesium powder and sulphur. As the use of these latter chemicals came up more and more for smaller and smaller items like rockets and flower pots as compared to their initial use in making large types of fireworks only, the controversy surrounding them has also grown.
This phenomenon is the reason behind the mass upsurge that has been witnessed in the previous years against the use of fireworks. As the festival approaches, the social media begins to be rutted with posts and videos urging and requesting people not to burn crackers in Diwali and to use that money for purposes of charity and similar causes citing the fact that fireworks cause tremendous amounts of air pollution due to the exhaust of gases produced by the combustion of said chemicals. While this may be passed on as a trivial issue by some, it has resulted in considerable losses to the fireworks industry in recent past. It has been observed by studies based on recorded data that the pollutant concentrations in air increase manifold during the Diwali season with average increases of 6 to 7 times in suspended particulate matter and twice in sulphate + nitrate levels, as compared to a typical winter day value. These concentrations shot up to 12 and 5 times respectively in the night of Diwali whereas the metal concentrations increase by 50-60 times! In consideration of all such data, more and more people are taking up to not using fireworks or crackers as a consequence of which, the industry faces a potential setback.
According to expert reports, as much as 35% of the firework products made for this year’s Diwali will remain unsold in the context of wholesale transactions. In addition to changing consumer perception as discussed before, there is another compelling factor to this. The present day Indian fireworks market is being flooded by Chinese exports, chiefly through Tuticorin and Navi Mumbai, amounting to a considerable sum of 600 crore rupees that has created a vanity of available customers for buying the Indian goods. Whereas the import of firecrackers into the country needs license from the Union government, it is also reported that no such licence has been issued till now to anybody. Thus, this major share of Chinese crackers in the Indian market is completely an illegal one. Now, the Indian fireworks industry is the second largest in the world next to China which has a humongous worth of over 30,000 crore Indian rupees. With such an enormous base of industrial strength and less rigid restrictions of production and sales, these Chinese fireworks have disrupted the Indian markets by introducing much cheaper fireworks.
It is worth mentioning here that the chief component of these Chinese fireworks is potassium chlorate which has a price of about Rs.25 per kg. In India however, the use of potassium chlorate for making fireworks is banned. Indian products thus have to rely on potassium nitrate and Aluminium powder mostly which price around Rs.70 per kg and Rs.250 per kg respectively. Moreover, with excise and sales tax added in, the Indian products price around 40 percent more than their Chinese counterparts, thus making their selling procedure all the more complex and problematic. Besides that, the export of Indian fireworks is also not possible owing to insufficient and unsuitable storage facilities. With illegal imports challenging them and no free way for exports, the Indian industry faces a major setback.
There is no dearth of domestic challenges to the industries as well. The industry is criticised for observing poor safety standards and paying wages as low as Rs.150 per day per worker. Continuous casualties have been reported in fires and hazards in such industries since almost their dawn in the country. Moreover, fires in firework markets are rampant, the most recent being that of Faridabad on Tuesday whereby 200 firework shops got burned down to ash.
Certain regulations must thus be implemented so as to bring about improvement into these patterns. The industries must cater to the guidelines as laid down by the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO). Routine official checks under supervision of sufficient number of experts and police strength should be organised and that too at regular intervals. These should not just be viewed by the industries as another liability on them but as potential measures for improvement of their overall performance in people’s perception and consequently in the markets. These industries also perform another service in that they not only provide employment to workers but also run schools for the workers’ children.
In light of all this, the challenges faced by them and notwithstanding the environmental aspect related to fireworks, it is but impossible not to sympathise with the Indian fireworks industry. The fireworks business thus seems almost a noble business in contrast to the popular perception nowadays of ‘setting money on fire’. So stop worrying about anything else and concentrate on celebrating Diwali with full vigour and enthusiasm. Burn lots and lots and crackers and fireworks but give priority to safety too. Lastly, try to remember the goal of Diwali. Whether you do it through knowledge, friendship, caring, love, lighting or fireworks, try to remove the darkness in lives- both of yours and of others. Happy Diwali to all.
P.S> Please provide your own thoughts and opinions on the topic via comments or through our forum on- “To burn crackers or not to burn? -That is the question”.