Banning firecrackers may not be the right way, instead regulate, create awareness

Firecracker industry like most of the industries in India has had a clustered existence. Most of them are small scale manufacturers clustered in and around Sivakasi Tamil Nadu. The industry size is estimated to be Rs 4,000 crore. But Chinese fire crackers have made a serious inroad into what was earlier a cocooned market by cornering almost 40 percent of the market thanks to its undercutting tactics on the back of starvation wages.

Last year’s demonetization hit all the small scale industries in India secularly. Sivakasi was no exception and it too was singed. Even as it was limping back to normalcy came the Supreme Court (SC) order banning sale of firecrackers in Delhi-NCR region.

The industry is now singed twice over in quick succession.

Hindu organizations are fuming at the discrimination with some of them drawing a comparison between crackers and slaughterhouses. If crackers pollute the air, the slaughterhouses pollute water especially on festival eve, they thunder. Why single out a raucous and boisterous Hindu festival alone? Having said that it must be pointed out that there is already an awakening among children about the deleterious effects of fire crackers and they pontificate to their parents in a manner of child being the father of man. The SC ought to have waited for this trend to percolate deep down.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Traders in Delhi-NCR who have stocked up firecrackers in the run up to Diwali are worst affected because while for buyers the news is killjoy, for traders it affects their livelihood and hence a more serious issue with the potential ripple effect looming large. Small scale manufacturers always encounter payment difficulties. The distributors take their own sweet time and pay up only when they get paid by the retailers down the supply chain.

The SC order has triggered a possible contagion effect. Unsold stocks are a traders’ nightmare. Cash gets locked up and there is a heightened storage cost with safety implications. Besides their margins could get badly hit in finding buyers in other places at a short notice involving yet another round of unnecessary transportation in a last minute rush.

In the USA, Hindus have community celebrations at a safe distance with prior police permission often at sprawling Hindu temples on the outskirts. There their worry is noise pollution. We in India don’t mind the noise as much as we have belatedly started minding and whining about the air pollution. The SC could have ordered community celebrations at designated places even though that might necessitate huge transportation arrangements and police mobilization.

In India that would trigger a massive logistical problem on the scale of kumbhmelas. In any case Indians enjoy bursting crackers themselves. Not for them is the passive role of watching from a safe distance others bursting them.

Airlines are going to do a brisk business on the Diwali eve from Delhi as the diehard revelers would fly to other places like Chennai and Mumbai unaffected by the SC diktat.

The moot question is why the Apex Court is more concerned about Delhi. Granted that it is more polluted than other places besides being the capital city and home to foreign diplomats. But these are by themselves not enough to justify a differential treatment. Mumbai and Chennai also feel the heat of pollution caused by firecrackers.

Condemning the firecracker industry is like throwing the baby with bathwater. Granted it is reviled for employing child labor. Granted it is more reviled for causing noise and air pollution but the solution is not a ban. Regulation and awareness are the key.

There are less harmful fire crackers in terms of pollution and noise. Only the harmful ones should be banned if at all.

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Updated Date: Oct 10, 2017 16:45 PM

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