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'Green' crackers seem unlikely to sparkle this Diwali

IANS | October 16, 2019 05:13 PM

CHENNAI: Not all the fire crackers that people would burst this Diwali will be 'green', as the sector regulator, the Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation (PESO), has approved only one such product for manufacture, a fire cracker maker in Tamil Nadu's Sivakasi said.

"Out of the 400 odd items that the industry makes, only one item - a single sound cracker - has been approved by PESO till date as the 'green' cracker for manufacture," the fire cracker maker, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IANS.

'Green' crackers are those where the minimum particulate matter emissions are reduced by about 30 per cent as compared to the conventional fire crackers.

"All other fire crackers have not got the PESO's approval. During the last one year, CSIR-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) has come out with formulations for green crackers for only nine products while the industry makes about 400 items," he added.

According to him, the PESO-approved single sound cracker can be made only by 28 units in the country.

However, Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association (TANFAMA) President Ganesan Panjurajan told IANS that there were nearly 350 such units.

"I cannot say anything about PESO's approval process. A total of 348 units have been approved by CSIR-NEERI to make green crackers. The units are making only green crackers," he said.

Sivakasi accounts for nearly 90 per cent of the country's fire cracker production, and has 1,070 fire cracker units located in and around it.

According to an industry official, NEERI, tasked by the Supreme Court to come up with new formulations for fire crackers that are less polluting, prepared nine - four single sound crackers, one flower pot and four sparklers, of which three are improved formulations.

The formulations are uploaded on NEERI's website with a rider that only those units that have signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) can manufacture them.

Industry officials are also of the view that the stability of the fire crackers made with new formulations is not known as it takes at least a year to know their behaviour under various climatic and storage conditions.

Curiously, NEERI had even come out with formulations containing barium nitrate as an oxidizer, despite the Supreme Court banned this chemical in fire crackers.

The court also banned joint crackers as it results in huge noise and smoke.

However, without barium nitrate, 60 per cent of the fire crackers can't be made.

"Barium nitrate is the safest oxidizer," Panjurajan of TANFAMA said.

Citing Rule 13 of Environment (Protection) Rules, 1986, an industry official said that a product cannot be banned when there is no substitute and even if there is any, a gestation period for transfer of technology should be given.

Industry officials also wonder how NEERI would have tested the products made by several units as it has only one emission chamber.

It would take four hours to test a cracker and in effect, only two fire crackers can be tested in eight hours.

Whether NEERI tested some products made by select manufacturer(s) and has certified other units with similar product compositions is not known.

On the role of NEERI, industry officials said that it has to come out with formulations, test the fire crackers for emissions, and certify them as 'green' crackers.

Some of the CSIR-NEERI formulations include its own additives giving rise to the question of conflict of interest.

As per scheme of things, the fire cracker manufacturers have to enter into a memorandum of understanding with CSIR-NEERI and also sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and pay a fee that depends on their production capacity and thus, ranges from Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000. The MoU/NDA is valid for two years and can be renewed.

Panjurajan, however, says there is no conflict of interest as the manufacturers are free to use other additives or ingredients that reduces emissions.

"There is no compulsion on the part of the manufacturers to renew their agreement with CSIR-NEERI. The manufacturers can come to NEERI with products made with their own formulations to be certified as green crackers," he said.

"We are planning to develop a flower pot that is almost smokeless," Panjurajan added.

According to officials, the fire cracker industry in Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu's Virudhunagar district would have lost about Rs 800 crore as they had downed their shutters for four months - December 2018 to January-March 2019.

The factories were shut as the industry did not have anything to make since the Supreme Court had ordered only the sale of green crackers, banned use of barium nitrate and the sale of joint crackers even as CSIR-NEERI was tasked to come out with new formulations.

However, with pressure from the state government as several lakhs of workers were without work for months, the units were reopened, industry officials said.

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