With Diwali just days away, firecracker manufacturers from the Rs 4,000-crore industry’s hub in Tamil Nadu’s Sivakasi say they are struggling to cope with the curbs imposed after the Supreme Court last year called for “green crackers” with chemical formulas approved by government agencies.
Manufacturers complain about “confusion and lack of clarity” and that there has been “no adequate response” from agencies on “green cracker formulations”.
They also claim that “several chemical formulas” submitted by CSIR-NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute) were rejected by the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO). CSIR-NEERI had been asked to develop formulations for green crackers according to the apex court’s directions, and PESO is the approval agency.
One leading manufacturer told The Indian Express on condition of anonymity that some of them have reverted to conventional firecracker compositions, defeating the very purpose of the court’s ruling — to curb pollution and use of harmful chemicals.
However, Rakesh Kumar, director of CSIR-NEERI, described the complaints as “baseless” and blasphemous”. “Not a single case of rejection has been reported so far,” he said.
Yet, manufacturers say many units have been shut down and that while tougher rules are in force, especially in Delhi-NCR region which is under the national spotlight, the idea of green crackers nationwide remains on paper.
Both sides are now waiting for a final judgment from the Supreme Court to clear the air, possibly as early as November 5 — a week after Diwali.
Sivakasi is estimated to supply about 80 per cent of firecrackers used in the country, with a market size of about Rs 4,000 crore in 2018, according to industry estimates. Early this month, a factory that claimed to have followed a CSIR-NEERI formulation reported an accident that killed one — an official probe is on.
“Forget about hundreds of smaller units, even the 1,070 licensed units and about 3 lakh employees in Sivakasi are struggling to survive. All factories were closed for the first five months after last Diwali as we were told to wait for green formulations. But CSIR-NEERI could not come out with formulas for a variety of products,” said Kalirajan Mariappan, who owns Sri Arumugam fireworks in Sivakasi and is a member of the Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers’ Association.
“After the Supreme Court order, several chemical formulas submitted by CSIR-NEERI were rejected by PESO. Currently, only one formula is accepted by PESO and only 28 of the 1,700 cracker manufacturing units in India have got approval to manufacture this, including just three in Sivakasi,” Mariappan said.
“The approval of PESO is must for formulas for bulk commercial production. The entire industry is in a crisis,” said A S Rajendra Raja, secretary, The Indian Fireworks Manufacturers Association (TIFMA).
“The situation has forced us to go with conventional models as it is an industry that sustains thousands of families. Several lakh cartons of green crackers are lying idle as PESO clearances have not been given,” claimed a leading manufacturer in Sivakasi, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Speaking to The Indian Express on condition of anonymity, a senior official of PESO said: “We rejected several formulas of CSIR-NEERI because of the presence of barium nitrate as it would have been contempt of court. The only formula approved by PESO was for a single-sound cracker.”
Responding to the complaints, Rakesh Kumar of CSIR-NEERI clarified that the Institute develops “generic compositions” which manufacturers “use in different ways for different models”.
“They are saying this during Diwali because it is a huge market and they want to confuse people to make it appear that green crackers are impossible. If PESO has rejected our formulations, they should tell us or the manufacturers should come to us. Even if PESO rejected our compositions, we can prove that they were by definition, and in terms of reduced emission, green crackers,” he said.
On the presence of barium nitrate, Kumar said: We worked on two types of formulations — improved and new. In the improved category, we ensured that barium formulations were drastically reduced to a level where it meets the definition of a green cracker. In our new compositions, we have eliminated barium. But we have very few models in the new composition due to limited time… Since the court hasn’t given a clear verdict, people are waiting.”
In October 2018, the Supreme Court had ruled that only green crackers with low emission and permissible sound limits were to be sold and used. It also fixed a time slot — between 8 pm and 10 pm on Diwali, and between 11.45 pm and 12.30 am on Christmas Eve and New Year.
“Green crackers” emit 30 per cent less particulate matter as compared to traditional firecrackers. CSIR-NEERI’s Kumar said: “A team of 24 to 25 scientists worked on reduced emission crackers for the past one year. We tested them before the manufacturers and cleared emission tests. The crackers were manufactured in their premises in bulk in varying styles using our composition.”
Elaborating on the issue, he said: “We never used the word green crackers but we used ‘reduced emission crackers’ in all our documents. The idea is not impossible. There are more than 400 patents filed on this across the world in countries such as China, USA, etc. Manufacturers could have tried one of those models. We worked on the idea because Indian manufacturers had been traditionally using poorly maintained, low-quality material in crackers, which killed so many people.”