SC ban on firecrackers: Industry stares at Rs 1,000-crore loss, layoffs

NEW DELHI: A Supreme Court ban on crackers in Delhi may clean up the capital’s air this Diwali but the decision is likely to choke the livelihoods of lakhs of workers in Tamil Nadu’s fireworks manufacturing hub of Sivakasi that fears a loss of more than Rs 1,000 crore.

The Supreme Court has put on hold the sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR till November 1.

Fireworks manufacturers in the tiny southern Tamil Nadu town, which accounts for 85% of all crackers sold in the country, say they are worried that other states might emulate the top court order.

“Diwali is the time we make maximum profits and the SC order will completely smash many units,” Asai Thmabi, president of Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association, told Hindustan Times. He said there was no time for a review of the top court order as only 10 days remained for Diwali. The Supreme Court on Monday temporarily banned the sale of firecrackers in and around the capital ahead of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, as it looks to prevent a repeat of severe air pollution that forced school closures last year.

New Delhi’s air quality has already hit “very unhealthy” levels, US embassy data shows. This is often blamed on burning of unwanted vegetation on farms in neighbouring states usual at this time of year, worsened by fumes from fireworks.

“We cause pollution only for a week at best, but vehicles pollute the city 24×7 all 365 days. What about that?”

The ban takes effect immediately and will run until Nov. 1, said a panel of Supreme Court judges headed by Justice Arjan Kumar Sikri, adding that its impact on the region’s air quality would have to be examined after the festival.

“All temporary licences to sell firecrackers stand cancelled,” said Haripriya Padmanabhan, a lawyer representing the group that sought the ban.

“People who had already purchased crackers will be able to burst them. Hopefully they won’t do that,” he said.

“This is a nice step, let us look at other sources of #airpollution too,” global environmental group Greenpeace said on social network Twitter.

Sivakasi has an annual estimated turnover of about Rs 7000 crore and employs more than 300,000 workers directly in the firecracker manufacturing factories. Another 500,000 are engaged in related industries – packaging, printing, paper rolling transportation and the like.

“We are worried about loss of jobs and livelihood options for people if firecrackers are banned in other cities too,” added Asai Thambi.

 
 
 

Sivakasi has been in the news frequently for its dangerous working conditions, employment of child labour and a rash of accidents in unsafe manufacturing units, but the industry has thrived.

“Some NGO or other petitioner can spoil the Diwali of manufacturers by filing a petition in any court, citing the SC ban seek a similar order to prevent noise pollution and environmental pollution,” the Sivakasi manufacturers association said.

G Sivaraman, another small manufacturer, said that Diwali celebrations were part of the tradition and culture of people. “How can the court disregard the fact that stopping use of firecrackers would hurt the sentiments of many people?” he asked.