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Monday, November 28, 2022

While SC wants ‘pure’ air, the cracker industry chokes

Deepavali is just days away. But the sound of crackers is not as loud as it used to be. Even though the month-long ban on crackers is for Delhi and NCR only, many factors including the hike in price of raw materials have dampened the production and the spirit in other states as well. Sivakasi, the mini Japan, dons a gloomy look as only 50-60% of the usual production is expected to be manufactured this year with courts keeping the knife hanging above their heads.

The Delhi government announced a complete ban on crackers from September 7 to January 1, 2023 even as the vendors were pushing to get the government to allow at least green crackers. Police are busy arresting vendors while the media is busy snooping around markets and ‘exposing’ even the few vendors selling crackers. A police officer told The Hindu that crackers were being “smuggled” into Delhi from Gurugram and that vendors have started using different routes as police increased deployment on that route. It is ridiculous to know that something as simplistic as crackers have to be “smuggled”.

The cracker industry in Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu, employs around 8 lakh people directly and indirectly. Following the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by ‘3 toddlers’ in Delhi, the Supreme Court had banned the usage of certain materials in the manufacturing of crackers which led to a countrywide ban initially. But due to public efforts some state governments reversed the complete ban and ‘gracefully’ allotted a few hours on the day of Deepavali to burst crackers.

The cracker sound that used to fill the air starting with Navaratri and getting intensified with Dussehra has gone mute with the intervention of ‘elite liberals’ in an inherent Hindu cultural aspect. SC, while banning crackers laden with Barium Nitrate, had directed the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to come up with green crackers to avoid pollution. NEERI came up with formulae based on which ‘green crackers’ are being produced in Sivakasi. But they have to be certified by the organisation.

NEERI’s laboratory to test crackers is located in Nagpur and manufacturers are finding it difficult to send samples there. There are nearly a thousand cracker manufacturing units in Sivakasi and 800 of them have entered into an agreement with NEERI for producing and testing ‘green crackers’. They are sending thousands of products to the laboratory for testing but NEERI has only two chambers in which only 4 products can be tested in a day. Even though it has been 3 years since the ban, no steps were taken to make the process easier. 

Only in June 2022, an announcement was made to set up a NEERI laboratory in Sivakasi at a cost of Rs 7.5 Cr. In the meanwhile manufacturer associations have been seeking the help of PM to allow crackers with reduced levels of chemicals. Ganesan, the President of Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers’ Association, says that “the petitioner had consistently misled the Supreme Court regarding the previous orders by saying Barium Nitrate is banned, though it had very clearly allowed reduced Barium Nitrate with additives.

The Supreme Court banned the use of Barium Nitrate and joined crackers in 2018. Subsequently, in a 2019 order it allowed the use of reduced Barium Nitratre along with additives based on the new composition recommended by Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change and directed the Ministry to file quality control and regulatory procedures”, he told The Hindu.

But the SC is yet to take up the affidavit filed by the ministry on the guidelines for implementation, regulation and quality control of ‘green crackers’. So the associations have written to the PM seeking him to approve the guidelines formulated by CSIR-NEERI with reduced Barium Nitrate along with additives as directed by the SC. They have also sought to include a recommendation for ‘green joined firecrackers’ using Potassium Nitrate as oxidizer without ash. Joined crackers(100,1000,10000 walas) make 35% of the total production and banning them affects the industry to a large extent.

While the court and the government, disconnected from ground realities, bat for ‘green crackers’, manufacturers worry that this new invention’s shelf life is way shorter than the usual ones. While crackers made with Barium Nitrate can last upto 10 years and can be sold even if the demand is low in the current year, ‘green crackers’ last only for 2-3 months as their composition absorbs moisture a lot. A double whammy situation for the manufacturers and distributors as the raw material price hike has resulted in reduced demand and the ‘green crackers’ would go stale if unsold.

Cracker manufacturers say that Barium Nitrate is used year-round by industries that manufacture welding electrodes, tyres, detonators, glass, ceramics, tracer bullets, and vacuum tubes. Even militaries use the chemical compound in explosives. Nowhere in the world is it banned. They feel that they are just easy targets to the egotistic environmental activists. All types of crackers are burst throughout the day in and around Sivakasi for testing and quality control purposes. They say that if crackers are the sole reason for pollution Sivakasi would be the most polluted city.

The industry is waiting with bated breath to see what the SC is going to do in the upcoming hearings. Meanwhile Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari filed a PIL in the SC against the Delhi government’s blanket ban on crackers seeking to allow at least green crackers. The court asked him, “Are you a permanent resident of NCR? Have you seen the condition after Diwali?”. Someone should ask them “Have you ever visited Sivakasi? They burst crackers everyday”. It is to be noted that despite the blanket ban since 2018, Delhi’s pollution hasn’t changed as children longingly looked at the colourful displays from other states. But stubble continues to burn in Punjab, bringing smog to Delhi.

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