Till a few months ago, crackers from Virudhunagar district of Tamil Nadu would even reach the other end of the world and rain colours in foreign skies. The streets in the district used to buzz with traders and makers of crackers who pushed India as the second largest firecracker industry in the world. Sivakasi, a village in Virudhunagar, catered to almost 90% of the total demand for firecrackers in India.
But, on October 23, 2018, the Supreme Court gave a verdict in which the manufacturing and sale of high-emission crackers (which consists of about 80% of the total production) were banned. This has turned the lives of workers in these cracker manufacturing units upside down. On November 13, a total of 1,070 crackers manufacturing units were closed indefinitely due to this ban. About six lakhs direct and indirect workers lost their jobs, breaking the backbone of the district’s economy. The workers, who used to earn Rs 300-600 per day by making crackers, are now in search of livelihood.
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On December 11, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) held a demonstration demanding the government’s intervention in the matter along with some other demands. About 3,000 workers from across the district participated in the demonstration, among which half were from the closed down cracker manufacturing units.
“They (the manufacturers) say they cannot make crackers after the SC verdict,” said Arjunan, Virudhunagar district secretary of CPI(M). “Barium and nitrate, which are used in the making of crackers and chain crackers, have also been banned, and 80% of crackers are made with these chemicals. The district authority sent notices to these units to implement the court order right after Diwali. They warned the manufacturers that if barium or nitrate are found in the units, these will be closed down and permits will be cancelled.”
When asked about a solution to the problem, Arjunan pointed out that the state government could effectively intervene in the matter. “The workers are living in a dire situation. They have been struggling for about a month now. The demonstration we conducted on December 11 was of a general nature. But we are planning to conduct a protest solely focusing on the issues of cracker workers. The date is yet to be fixed,” he added.
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The workers who lost their jobs are seeking employment elsewhere now. A small fraction of them is working in calendar and diary manufacturing units in Sivakasi. But this is not a permanent solution.
Known as ‘kutti Japan’ (small Japan), this erstwhile firecracker hub of India, is now blanketed in darkness. There is no doubt about the need to reduce pollution. However, a better way than the sudden shutting down of a labour-intensive industry should be found out. The government should immediately intervene in the matter to save the workers from economic distress following job losses.