Tamil Nadu

Sivakasi’s shame

Print edition : May 31, 2013

Officials inspecting the fire accident spot at Naranapuram near Sivakasi on April 28. Photo: G. Moorthy

“Unprecedented tragedy has struck us today

Can we see a new dawn and a better tomorrow?

We, who bring delight to the world every year,

Reel under eternal darkness of death and despair!

O God, redeem us from the perpetual danger;

And dispel the curse once for all!”

THESE words that appeared on posters eight months ago in villages around Sivakasi reflected the agony of over one lakh workers in the fireworks industry. A devastating blast at a cracker unit in Mudalipatti in Virudhunagar district on September 6 last year claimed 40 lives and injured over 70 persons.

The Central and State governments ordered inquiries into the incident and the National Human Rights Commission too registered a case. The inquiry commission appointed by the Centre has come out with valuable recommendations to avert such accidents. The State government, on its part, announced a slew of enforcement measures, besides introducing facilities at the Government Hospital in Sivakasi to treat burns victims.

However, in the fireworks hub of the country—800-odd units account for about 90 per cent of the country’s fireworks production and employ over a lakh persons—safety still remains a serious concern. In April alone, in three separate incidents in 10 days, eight persons died. The accidents exposed violations by manufacturers, negligence by the law enforcers, appalling working conditions and lack of proper training for workers. Among the major violations were the use of substandard chemicals, stocking of excess explosive material, subleasing of cracker units and presence of illegal units.

Preliminary inquiries about the blast at a unit on April 29 showed that it occurred when the workers were engaged in mixing chemicals to make pellets used in “fancy fireworks”. The unit, New Rathna Fireworks, owned by S.S. Vijayakumar, president of the Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association (TANFAMA), allegedly indulged in violations such as using red lead, a highly sensitive chemical that was banned several years ago; mixing chemicals outside the factory sheds; and using equipment made of iron.

According to informed sources, between 2000 and 2012, violations and poor monitoring had resulted in 170 blasts and the death of 288 persons, mostly workers.

Yet, a section of manufacturers continues to resist safety measures spelt out by the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation saying they were “impractical”.

S. Dorairaj

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