[Editorial] Ensuring Safety in Fireworks Industry
- On New Year’s Day, 4 workers died in a blast at a fireworks unit in Kalathur village. This village is located in Virudhunagar district, Tamil Nadu.
- It is reported to have been triggered by mishandling of chemicals used as raw materials in the industry. The mishandling created friction which led to the explosion.
Significance of Virudhunagar:
- Virudhunagar is the hub of the firecrackers industry in the southern state.
- Sivakasi, located in this district, contributes to 90% of this 3,000 crore INR industry i.e. contributes to 90% of the domestic demand in India. notably, India is the 2nd largest fireworks manufacturer in the world, after China.
- Sivakasi is noted for the 2012 factory explosion that killed 40 people.
- According to government and industry data, there have been as many as 70 to 75 accidents in this district in the past 5 years. These claimed some 40-50 lives.
What has been done to prevent such incidents?
- Given how the district has suffered numerous blasts, successive state governments have taken measures to study the factors leading to such explosions. Several committees have been formed at the state level.
- The sector has seen improvement in its functioning- such as the considerable reduction in its employment of child labour.
- The PESO (Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization) has been conducting regular inspection of the licensed firecracker factories. In case of serious violation of norms, penal action is taken as per the provisions of Explosives Rules, 2008.
- Other activities like organization of training programs and awareness campaigns on the benefits of going for alternatives like green crackers are undertaken.
- A Fire Works Welfare Board has been established to deal with the accident compensations.
What are the concerns?
- In the recent case, though the authorities have suspended the offending unit’s license and filed charges under IPC and Indian Explosive Substances Act, they haven’t taken note of other violations like the licensee leasing out his unit to others and the unauthorised manufacture of products.
- Though many measures have been taken by the state government, the track record is poor with regards to adherence to safety protocols and monitoring of compliance.
- One of the major issue faced by the industry is the multiple licensing mechanism. Both PESO and DRO (District Revenue Office) issue licenses to firework manufacturers. Major players are licensed by PESO while the minor players are licensed by the DRO.
- Both PESO and DRO are running on sparse staff. There are less than 10 officials to manage more than 1,000 units in the district.
What is the way ahead?
- There needs to be a paradigm shift in how an event like the Kalathur blast is perceived. Any explosion is generally termed an accident. However, the usage of this term glosses over the role of those responsible for implementation and enforcement of safety norms. There should be no compromise on this point.
- In any investigation, the concerned authorities could consider the suggestions from the 8-member committee constitute by the NGT.
- It was constituted in the aftermath of an explosion in February 2021. This incident claimed more than 20 lives.
- It was headed by K. Kannan, former judge of the Punjab and Haryana, and Madras High Courts.
- Amendment of Explosives Act to make punishments more stringent
- Only certified persons to be employed for operations like mixing and filling of chemicals and the making of color pellets.
- Use of drones for surveillance of units
It is important to acknowledge this industry’s contribution to the Indian economy. It employs some 8 lakh people- especially in a backward part of the state. The region doesn’t even have a assured irrigation to aid the populace’s move to agriculture as an alternative. At the same time, the sector’s economic importance doesn’t absolve it of its responsibility to the life and health of its workers and the society at large. There are many ways to make the sector safer- but this requires the central and state governments to ensure the enforcement of safety norms.