Diwali blues: Supreme Court's green crackers diktat makes Sivakasi see red
Only six of Sivakasi’s 1,070 fireworks units have a green cracker licence. But everybody claims to be making eco-friendly fireworks. Meanwhile confusion over the issue has caused Sivakasi a production loss of nearly ₹1,000 crore
For Ajit Krishnan, a software professional, the battle was between his heart and his mind. His 10 year-old son loves bursting crackers but his passion for the environment came in the way of satisfying his son’s wish. That his neighbours in Chennai with kids in the same age group have no such qualms complicated the matter further. His own family members accused him of being ‘stupid’ and ‘paranoid’.
This year he was hoping for a better Diwali. After all, the Supreme Court has prescribed specific norms for the manufacture the green crackers and he hoped to buy them all to satisfy his son (and other family members) without hurting his conscience. With Diwali just a week away, he was in for a rude shock.
None of the crackers manufactured at Sivakasi will carry the ‘green cracker’ label.
Final verdict awaited
“We cannot label them as green crackers. No one has the authority to do so as the Supreme Court has not given its final verdict on the matter. It has only given an interim order, in March this year, specifying the various processes to be followed by the manufacturers,” said P Ganesan, President, Tamil Nadu Fireworks & Amorces Manufacturers’ Association (TANFAMA). “Customers will not be able to differentiate between a green cracker and others,” he said. A cross-section of manufacturers that BusinessLine spoke to echo his views.
But they all insist that most players have manufactured the crackers per the green norms prescribed by the apex court. “We adhered to the Court’s norms by producing green crackers and have shipped them. However, it was not possible to label them as green crackers,” said Ganesan.
But Krishnan is not willing to buy this argument. “I have little faith in cracker manufacturers. They are, after all, the same people who will print the retail price of a cracker as₹1,000 and sell it at ₹250,” he said. Without proper labelling pursuant to a well laid out quality testing process, no cracker is a green cracker, he added. His dilemma, it appears, will continue this year. Adding to his pain, his son’s craze for crackers has only risen in the last 12 months.
Confusion in Sivakasi
His scepticism about green crackers may not be off the mark. Confusion has reigned in Sivakasi, the fireworks capital of the country, which annually manufacturers fireworks worth over ₹8,000 crore, employing nearly 8 lakh workers, ever since the Supreme Court pronounced the interim order on Diwali crackers.
In a landmark judgement last October, just days before Diwali, the Court, while declining to issue a blanket ban on sale and bursting of fireworks during Diwali and other festivals, permitted the sale and manufacture of low-emission ‘green’ firecrackers. These firecrackers are supposed to have emission and decibel levels 30 per cent lower than the conventional ones.
The Court had passed the order on writ petitions filed by a few residents of Delhi in September 2015, seeking a ban on the sale of firecrackers as they were concerned about increasing air pollution.
What is a green cracker?
The Court defined ‘green cracker’ as something that could be an improved formulation or an all new formulation. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and National Environmental Engineering Institute (NEERI) began work on designing a green cracker. They also conducted some trials.
Their conclusion, according to cracker manufacturers, was that by reducing the quantum of barium nitrate in a cracker and replacing it with another chemical, the emission of pollutants can be reduced by 30 per cent and the noise levels could drop from 160 decibels to 125 decibels. The Court had also mandated that the new formula should be approved by the Petroleum and Safety Explosives Organisation (PESO), which has a centre in Sivakasi.
A cracker manufacturer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that many crucial months were lost in this process. It was only in March this year that clarity emerged on what constitutes a green cracker. When PESO began to give out licences for manufacturers to produce green crackers, only six of the 1,070 fireworks units in Sivakasi got them (in North India about 24 units got the licence). This, industry players say, has caused the sector in Sivakasi a production loss to the tune of nearly ₹1,000 crore.
Also CSIR and NEERI had recommended using barcodes or QR codes on all fireworks to identify genuine manufacturers. This recommendation had been adopted by the Court in March this year. However, the government gave its concurrence only last week and there is hardly any time to adhere to it as most of the stock has already been shipped to various parts of the country.
Meanwhile, Union Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan, while addressing an event organised by CSIR recently, announced that green crackers with 30 per cent lower emissions will now be available in the market. He said that steps have been taken to control pollution as well as take care of people's sentiments.
Related news: CSIR labs develop ‘green’ crackers
"I am happy to announce that we have green crackers with emission reduced by minimum 30 per cent. These are environment-friendly. We had appealed to our scientists to come up with an alternative to the polluting firecrackers so that people’s sentiments are taken care of without harming the environment," Vardhan had said then.
The scientists at the event said that buyers should look out for a green logo as well as a Quick Response (QR) coding system, developed to distinguish green crackers from conventional crackers. But what they seem to be unaware of is that the industry will not be in a position to insert the QR code or the green logo this year.
In fact, TANFAMA, in an affidavit, has urged the Supreme Court to allow implementation of the QR code system along with the green cracker logo for products in Diwali 2020.
So, if you, like Krishnan, are looking for green crackers, it will be impossible to identify them in the absence of any labelling. Considering that very few units have got the official nod to produce them, manufacturers’ claim that almost all the crackers they have produced has been as per `green’ norms will hold little water. It looks like environment-conscious folks will have to wait yet another year to celebrate a green Diwali.