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India’s firecracker capital of Sivakasi is staring at a dark Diwali this year, with Delhi and five states banning fireworks ahead of the annual festival of lights. Manufacturers have been blindsided by the abrupt ban, announced days before Diwali, a season when the town in Tamil Nadu sells over 80% of its crackers. Most manufacturers have shipped their products to stockists across the country, and are now bracing for returns.

Manickam Tagore, the Lok Sabha MP representing Virudhunagar, which includes Sivakasi, said the ban would hurt nearly a million people who work in fireworks factories in his constituency. Tagore is in New Delhi to meet Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar.

“There have always been challenges and calls for bans every year. But this time, after covid and lockdown, the industry will be affected in a very big way," said Tagore, adding Sivakasi’s 100-year-old industry has withstood economic downturns, natural disasters and even two World Wars.

Rajasthan, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Odisha and Karnataka banned firecrackers last week to curb air pollution. Many factories are planning to shut, and some may never recover, Tagore said.

Sivakasi began making fireworks after the end of the First World War, when an acute famine ravaged the town. Pyrotechnics lifted the fortunes of the town, which is said to record annual fireworks sales of 6,000 crore now. Nearly every household in Sivakasi now knows how to make fireworks.

However, pollution concerns have led to a public health pushback against crackers, leading to demands for taxes and warning labels if not outright bans, to discourage consumption.

Abiruban, a third-generation fireworks maker in Sivakasi, termed the ban illegal, alleging political considerations rather than a scientific study for the move. “In 2019, the apex court said states should allow only environment-friendly crackers. By 2020, everybody started making green crackers. Everybody was pinning their hopes on Diwali," said Abiruban, a former president of industry body Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers’ Association.

“This is a seasonal industry, which manufactures for 10 months and sells in one month. The dealer will take the material on credit one or two months before Diwali. Now, he is not going to pay and is asking us to take back crackers," Abiruban said.


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