With thousands of workers painstakingly handmaking vast volumes of firecrackers, Sivakasi in southern India is usually at full tilt before Diwali. However, due to efforts to curb air pollution, the pyrotechnics epicenter is fizzling out.
In addition to gifts, elaborate feasts and family get-togethers, the Hindu mega-festival of lights has in recent years also meant setting off firecrackers — millions of them.
Their smoke combines with other emissions to turn the air of India’s cities into a deadly, sickly yellow cocktail that one study says kills 1 million Indians prematurely every year.
Just before Diwali last year, India’s top court ruled only “green crackers” that emit fewer pollutants could be used. Although the police tried to enforce the new rules, most people still set off the old type.
Confusion still surrounds the regulations, but signs in Sivakasi, which in past years supplied 90 to 95 percent of India’s firecrackers with revenues of about US$800 million, suggest that this year’s blowout would be quieter.
“Usually after Diwali the people come to us and place orders for the next Diwali and even give some advance payment,” said D Mathan, director of Lima Fireworks — one of about 1,000 manufacturers in Sivakasi, a town in Tamil Nadu State.
“It didn’t happen this time around,” he said.
Production at his company has plunged almost 60 percent.
The industry is the biggest local job creator, directly or indirectly employing hundreds of thousands of people, many of them uneducated women. Now many do not don’t know what they will do.
“Some people migrated to other jobs like daily wage laborers, farm labourers and construction workers,” said Arvind Kumar, a factory employee in Sivakasi.
Many producers switched to manufacturing the “green crackers” after receiving training and assistance from the government. However, being more expensive, sales have been slow.
G Karuppasamy, 65, a Sivakasi firecracker shopkeeper and wholesaler, said that sales have slumped almost 50 percent as orders from around India have dried up.
“Authorities talk about pollution, but we don’t pollute much compared to others. And one day doesn’t make a difference for the rest of the year,” he said.
“The government shouldn’t clamp down on us. Everyone in a 30km radius is dependent on this sector. Sivakasi’s existence isn’t possible without this sector,” he added.
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