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Green crackers make Sivakasi see red

03-11-2018
Green crackers make Sivakasi see red

A.P. Selvarajan is a man besieged. A firecracker manufacturer in Sivakasi, Tamil Nadu, he was part of a small industry group that met the State Chief Minister, Edappadi K. Palaniswami, in Chennai on October 26. The delegation was seeking relief from the Supreme Court order last week, on October 23, that banned all firecrackers that were not ‘green crackers’. The order had, in one stroke, effectively rendered the entire cracker industry in Sivakasi India’s fireworks manufacturing hub, illegal.

According to an affidavit filed by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) in the Supreme Court on August 21 this year, ‘green crackers’ are less polluting, with lower emission levels. However, Sivakasi views the court order as striking a deathblow to the pyrotechnics industry.

For Selvarajan, owner of big fireworks factories in Sivakasi, the discomfort has many layers.

The MoEF&CC had commissioned a team from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (CSIR-NEERI), Nagpur, to conduct research on ‘green crackers’. In its affidavit to the Suprme Court, the Ministry has mentioned a ‘CSIR-Kaliswari joint facility’, which is Selvarajan’s firm, Sri Kaliswari Fireworks Private Limited, implying an industry partner for the ‘Green Cracker experiment’.

If Selvarajan was blindsided by the court order, he had to swallow it. He had agreed to partner with NEERI when its team was in Sivakasi in March for consultations on low-emission crackers. “They visited my facility and my CSIR-approved emission testing laboratory. Since we are one of the oldest establishments in Sivakasi, I felt it was my duty to help with this research for the greater good of the industry,” says Selvarajan, who paid a licence fee of ₹10 lakh to NEERI and participated in what he assumed was a private study for his factory. He also sent technicians to NEERI to teach the basics of cracker chemistry to research students there. “The study began only around June-July this year.” But this seemingly well-intentioned decision has now come back to haunt him.

The petition for the firecracker ban was first filed in the Supreme Court, on behalf of three infants, in 2015. In November 2016, in light of Delhi’s air quality having deteriorated sharply after Deepavali, the Court suspended the permanent and temporary licences of all cracker retailers in Delhi and banned the entry of fireworks into the National Capital Region (NCR). The suspension of firecracker licences was revoked briefly in September 2017 on the ground that there were no definitive pollution standards for the industry to adhere to. But in October 2017, just ahead of Deepavali, the court overturned its earlier order and ordered an experimental ban on firecrackers in the NCR. This led to the petitioners seeking an all-India ban on firecrackers. The court asked the MoEF&CC and affiliated bodies to come up with solutions.


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