New Delhi: Diwali is just round the corner and the number of coronavirus cases is still rising. The festival is an extremely important affair for the fireworks industry in Tamil Nadu’s Sivakasi district. However, this year, traders and manufacturers are clueless. Sivakasi, which accounts for nearly 80% of the country’s fireworks production, is wrapped in an atmosphere of gloom and uncertainty as it staring at a huge loss this year due to the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown. To make things worse, the illegal intrusion of Chinese firecrackers has already begun. Earlier this month, Virudhunagar MP B. Manickam Tagore held a discussion with representatives of the fireworks industry and petroleum and explosives safety officials to bring an export hub in Sivakasi.

MP Manickam Tagore told The Sunday Guardian: “Every year, these Chinese firecrackers are smuggled in to the country. In 2009-2010, the government had included Chinese firecrackers into the banned list of items. I don’t know from where these crackers are smuggled in, but generally, it’s through the seaports as imported toys and other goods.”

“The whole Sivakasi city depends on Diwali and festive seasons like Dusshera. This year since Covid has affected every industry, it has also affected Sivakasi, especially the production part. People should celebrate with Indian crackers. In the fireworks industry, 99% of their life is dependent on one day, that is Diwali. The business of Chinese fireworks is dependent upon global sales and exports and a lot of things,” said the Virudhunagar MP.

Every year, Chinese fireworks are smuggled into the country and it affects the sales and demand of the Sivakasi manufactured products. Several manufacturers of firecrackers in Sivakasi told The Sunday Guardian that as it’s difficult to distinguish the Chinese variants from the Indian products; these illegals products are flooding the country. The smuggled firecrackers are cheap, but dangerous and are shipped into the country as toys and electronic goods.

A.R. Bhaskar Raj, Treasurer of the Tamil Nadu Fireworks & Amorces Manufacturers Association (TANFAMA) said: “This is a persistent problem for the last two decades. Earlier, this issue was not known much. Now due to the growing popularity of social media, communication has become easy in the last 6-7 years. The Indian government has banned certain things in fireworks that emit poisonous gases. However, in China, these things are legally allowed. This came to our knowledge in 2012-13. Since that year, we are pressuring the government and other agencies to stop this illegal import. But the problem is, it is not imported as fireworks, but as toys. These illegal products are coming especially to Delhi, Gujarat etc and it comes by road mostly. Sometimes it comes to Mumbai via sea. It is easily available in southern parts of the country too. Its almost 25% of the cost of Indian products. We also came to know that consignments coming via sea are not scanned properly. Only 5% of the containers are scanned. This is a big issue. Now, these traders are openly selling these illegal products via WhatsApp and Facebook. They don’t have any brands, they are called ‘pop-ups’. It is easily available and cheaper. This is a big chain. For example, they have a stock of Rs 1 crore. They start in small cities and it takes around 2-3 months. Right now, these illegal products have already reached the retailers. It’s also available in Sivakasi.”

Many firecracker wholesale dealers and retailers in Delhi The Sunday Guardian spoke to stressed the fact that they are uncertain whether they will be able to reach their expected sales margin this year. Though these shop owners are aware of the smuggling of Chinese firecrackers, they said that they don’t know who sells or supplies these illegal crackers.