The nearly Rs 2000-crore fire cracker industry in Sivakasi is divided over joining hands with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)'s National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to produce green crackers. The development comes at a time when around 165 units, of the little over 1,000 units, have already signed non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to produce green crackers.
NEERI has been researching firecracker emissions after the Supreme Court last year asked the central government on the steps it was taking to reduce particulate matter emissions from firecrackers.
Some manufacturers allege that NEERI is asking the units to sign a non-dsiclosure agreement (NDA) and pay a fee of Rs 10,000 or more depending upon the size of the unit, to use an additive, for which the institute holds a patent. The validity of the agreement is for two years, but chances are that it would become mandatory for the industry to sign it again to use the additive after that too, which would mean that the units would have to depend on this arrangement in the future too.
Further, there is also a conflict of interest since the raw material and the formulations are developed and patented by the institute, which is also the agency for certifying pollution standards of the final product.
However, not all the manufacturers are raising the allegation. P Ganesan, president of Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association (TANFAMA) and director of Vinayaga Sonny Fireworks Group, one of the largest fireworks manufacturers in the country, says there are no such restrictions and the companies can purchase the raw material from anywhere they want. "There are different types of additives. We can import also, if needed," he said.
The additive to be used is a natural substance that is available off the shelf across the country, said another manufacturer, who added that the allegations of monopoly were false.
Responding to the allegations that the signing of agreement would result in monopoly of the institute, a senior NEERI official said, "CSIR-NEERI has patents for the new formulations based on new hypothesis identified for targeting emissions reduction. NDA signatories are required to undergo hands on training for better understanding of standard operating procedures for making of green crackers for which nominal facilitation charges have to be given by manufacturers".
"CSIR-NEERI has developed the formulations using some raw materials and additives. The raw materials and additives suggested by CSIR-NEERI to be used by fireworks manufacturers are being provided by other chemical industries/manufactures. To the best of our knowledge there is no conflict of interest in this case," added the official.
While industry representatives said that the manufacturers have produced most of the formulations using the improved form of the existing formulation this year, NEERI said that manufacturers were adopting new formulations only. Efforts are on to further reduce emissions from firecrackers and the institute and its sister labs are working on developing green crackers having 50-70% lower emissions in the coming year, it added.
Nearly 230 MoUs and 165 NDAs have been signed with fireworks manufacturers to facilitate hand-holding with stakeholders to enable smooth transition. Close to 530 emissions testing certificates have been issued to fireworks manufactures for new and improved formulations meeting the stipulated guidelines of green crackers. Manufacturers have been approaching PESO for approval and final authorisation for the manufacture of green crackers since March, 2019.
A NEERI official said that a list of 28 manufacturers approved by PESO for manufacturing green crackers had been released in Delhi and this information maybe sought from PESO office Nagpur. "We are expecting about 700 more manufacturers to adopt the new formulations," said the official. There are over 1000 firecracker manufacturers in Sivakasi, employing around 800,000 workers directly and indirectly.
The fireworks industry in Sivakasi is seeing light at the end of the tunnel after the business was impacted badly due to regulations and Supreme Court orders in the last couple of years, as it is in an advanced stage of complying with the green cracker norms. Last year the industry produced firecrackers worth Rs 2,000 crore, however, this year it might take a hit of around Rs 800 crore out of this due to the delay in starting production, among other reasons.