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Victims of Chinese competition, why no tears for Sivakasi fire cracker unit workers?

By NS Venkataraman*
Sivakasi and Coimbatore are two regions in Tamil Nadu well known for entrepreneurial skill and initiatives. While Coimbatore focuses on textile and foundry industries, the main focus of Sivakasi region has been in the field of printing and production of fire crarckers and matchsticks. Both the regions have substantial share in the Indian market space for their products.
While Coimbatore region has reasonably tuned itself to adopt modern technologies and hold it’s market share, this has not been so in the case of fire crackers units in Sivakasi, in spite of the well known entrepreneurial attributes of the promoters but in spite of it. Fire cracker units have suffered enormously for no fault of theirs but reasons beyond their control.
Once, fire cracker units in Sivakasi had substantial share in the export market, which has now dwindled down to insignificant level due to the competition from China, where with the government support, innovative products have been developed and now in most parts of the world, fire crackers from China are used. In the case of Sivakasi, there have been no particular efforts on the part of the Tamil Nadu government or Government of India to help the industry to sustain it’s share in the export market.
In India, over 90% of the fire crackers have been supplied from Sivakasi and surrounding areas. Hundreds of small and medium scale units have been in operation employing directly and indirectly over five lakh people. Substantial number of them are women. Workers, both men and women, have developed skill in their own way, which have been passed from one generation to the other.
While no country in the world have banned use of fire crackers and in the New Year Day and Christmas celebrations all over the world, use of fire crackers is an inevitable part of the celebrations, in India, there have been concerted campaign against the use of fire crackers by the environmentalists. While hazardous chemicals are used in the fire crackers, to what extent the fire crackers, which are largely used only during Deepavali celebration, cause environmental hazard is a matter of investigation. 
Compared to several other environmental hazards caused due to activities such as stubble burning in Haryana and Punjab, emissions from coal based power plants and petroleum fuel used in automobiles etc., the hazards caused by the use of fire crackers on a few occasions is obviously much less. 
In any case, over a period of time, the market base for the fire crackers produced from Sivakasi region have been impacted in adverse manner, which has been further accentuated by the government allowing liberal import of fire crackers from China at low price.
Fire cracker units, both tiny and small scale, have been forced to close down resulting in loss of jobs for thousands of workers
The net result of the situation is that several fire cracker units, both tiny and small scale units, have been forced to close down resulting in loss of jobs for thousands of workers, who have been put to extreme financial difficulties and consequent social problems. Many of them are now migrating to other places seeking work and suffering from mental stress.
Who is to be blamed for the situation? Available facts suggest, the Tamil Nadu government has failed to carry out forward planning, to protect the livelihood of the poor workers in fire cracker units in Sivakasi region, most of whom have no other skill. It is well recognized that entrepreneurs in Sivakasi region have dynamic outlook and the labourers are sincere and hard working.
Based on these factors, over the years, the Tamil Nadu government should have taken some steps to promote specific industrial clusters in Sivakasi region and imparted training to the workers in particular fields in tune with the local conditions. This has not been done. As a result, the workers in the fire cracker units in Sivakasi are left high and dry and with very bleak future.
It is sad that the noisy media in Tamil Nadu, which highlights several issues such as farmers problems, caste issues etc. and give huge space for all sorts of local politicians, have no inclination or time to highlight the problems of the workers in Sivakasi, that may force the government to act in the matter. Sivakasi workers now remain voiceless, with only occasional and casual reference to them in the media.
While thousands of poor people have lost jobs in Sivakasi, the Tamil Nadu government is guilty of paying only lip sympathy and not taking proactive measures to rehabilitate the region.
There are immense possibilities such as promotion of clusters for establishing modern foundries, automobile component units , software centres etc., particularly since the people of Sivakasi have always shown admirable initiatives whenever given support and opportunities.
Workers in fire cracker units in Sivakasi are not shedding tears now because they have been crying for quite some time and their eyes have dried up. What about the blocked tears from the closed eyes of those running the government?
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*Trustee, Nandini Voice for The Deprived

Comments

Anonymous said…
To be competitive, Sivakasi has to invent and innovate. Still living in the technology of 17th century. No one buy crackers out of sympathy or giving jobs to Sivakasi workers. Sivakasi is great for localites but not for neighbours who always want to buy better products.

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