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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Disaster waiting to happen

Fireworks Units Flout Rules At Will, Monitoring Lax

Madurai: Sivakasi, India's biggest fireworks manufacturing hub, is a ticking bomb. With a majority of the 750 licensed fireworks manufacturing units according least priority to safety concerns, the danger is real for the workers as well as those living in this south Tamil Nadu industrial town, which was called the little Japan of India by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. 
    Om Sakthi Fireworks, where 35 people were charred to death on Wednesday, is a telling example of how rules are flouted by the fireworks industry. A preliminary report on the accident, prepared by the controller of explosives, said 28 of the victims died in explosions in unauthorized storage cells. 

    "Our officials had conducted an inspection at Om Sakthi a few days ago and found it had engaged excess workers and stocked excess explosives. We initiated steps to suspend the licence immediately," said B Rangasamy, deputy chief controller of explosives. 
    There is hardly any regulation of the fireworks sector despite numerous accidents in the recent past. The government had formed committees to survey the units and make 
recommendations for safety measures. But nothing has been implemented. 
    Sivakasi is in a dry, arid belt which sees little agricultural activity. Making fireworks is a cottage industry and the primary source of income for most families. The bigger units hand out the raw materials which people stack up in their homes. They get paid for every batch delivered. Sivakasi's firework's industry, which had only two manufacturing units in 1923, has come a long way. It employs 1.25 lakh people directly 
and about 2 lakh indirectly. Sivakasi is the second largest fireworks manufacturing hub in the world - the largest is in China. About 29% of people in the town are employed in this industry. The boom started in the 80s and the industry has been growing at 10% per annum. It has an annual turnover of Rs 2,000 crore. Apart from making firecrackers, Sivakasi units also make military weapons training items and rockets to scare birds at airports. 
    Sources claim accidents are rare in fireworks industry. 
While it is less than 1% in fireworks industry, in all other industries it ranges from 5-47%. 
    The Nagpur-based Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation is the only body looking after the 2.61 lakh hazardous units in the country. The organisation, headed by the chief controller of explosives, has a little over 100 officers across the country, with a hand full of them being in Sivakasi. It implements safety rules for manufacturing, storage, transport, import and export of explosives. 

Chinese chemicals highly sensitive 
Madurai: A major reason for the frequent fire accidents at Sivakasi is the fireworks industry's efforts in recent years to move from manufacturing noisy crackers to ones that put out a show of light and colour. 
    Many of these products are made from new chemical combinations sourced from China, world leader in fireworks manufacturing. Most ingredients used in the combination are explosive in nature and highly sensitive to heat. But work practices are shoddy and safety is given a go-by. Most workers are unaware of the potential danger of the chemicals they use. TNN 

Little Japan lacks decent burns ward 
Sivakasi:This municipality in the backward Virudhunagar district with nearly one lakh residents is often called 'kutti' (little) Japan for its enterprising businessmen, who have nurtured the cracker industry for more than four decades. But the enterprise and the cash inflow, unfortunately, have not translated into decent health facilities for workers. Though fire accidents take place with alarming frequency, the government hospital here has limited facilities. On Wednesday, the district administration had to put up a shamiana outside the rudimentary burns ward to accommodate the victims. TNN

Policemen at the site of the tragedy on the outskirts of Sivakasi on Wednesday


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