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A Disaster Waiting to Happen at Sivakasi
|by T. S. V. Hari|
Sivakasi (Tamil Nadu)
A disaster might be just waiting to happen in this town, which is considered the fireworks capital of India. Firecrackers are being illegally manufactured in houses and open fields, capable of triggering huge fires and explosions.
At least 40 percent of the Rs.15 billion ($346 million) firecracker trade originating in Sivakasi, over 450 km south of Chennai, is illicit and has the potential to cause devastating accidents due to the inappropriate use of explosive substances.
"A colossal disaster is lurking in some 40 villages here in the form of illegal manufacture of crackers worth Rs.6 billion with a combination of banned materials that can cause widespread deaths," K. Mariappan, secretary of the Tamil Nadu Fireworks And Amorces Manufacturers' Association (TANFAMA), told IANS.
"Illegal manufacture of fireworks containing substances that fall under the Class 7 category specified under the Explosives Rules 1983 are being created in residences, open fields and roof tops by fly-by-night operators in over 40 villages around here," he said.
Mariappan warned that if this malpractice was not checked immediately, the danger may not be limited to Sivakasi and neighbouring areas as the illegally made firecrackers would find their way to shops across India ahead of Diwali, the festival of lights.
Police authorities woke up to the reality of crackers being made illegally on a large scale here after a minor explosion killed one person a fortnight ago. They were then tipped off by TANFAMA and have now launched a drive to control dissemination of the dangerous explosive substances.
"We have stopped the entry of some chemicals beyond permitted areas and their exit out of Virudhunagar district to combat this danger," Deputy Inspector General of Police S.S. Krishnamurthy said over telephone from Madurai.
"Steps have been initiated to quell the danger here and warn others elsewhere in India from buying improperly made goods," he added.
But Mariappan maintained that the situation was "so grave" that disasters could happen any time.
Around 15 cases have been reported in the last nine days, a police official said.
Together with The Indian Fireworks Manufacturers Association (TICMA), Mariappan's outfit - which comprises over 500 licensed cracker producers - and the police are waging a war to restore the image of Sivakasi, the hub of firecrackers units for years.
Apart from the danger of causing blasts and conflagrations, cracker manufacturers rue that the illegal units could harm their profits in the festival season.
"Ours is a dying art because the world fireworks market has levitated towards automation and use of chemicals with more fizz like potassium chloride (banned in India)," said A.R.T. Jayaraj, a cracker manufacturer.
He added: "The industries here had begun copying China with collaborations over a decade ago. We still use potassium nitrate, sulphur and aluminium powder manually.
"A wrong combination of potassium nitrate, whose safe limit is approximately 12 percent, is dangerous and can result in a catastrophe affecting whole neighbourhoods," he warned.
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