Guwahati: It was almost two years since the traditional firecracker makers of Barpeta, Assam was hoping for a business this Diwali. For the past one month, the firecracker maker families of Barpeta have been busy making traditional handmade firecrackers for the local market. Barpeta traditional firecrackers have a good demand in Diwali across Assam. Before the pandemic, the firecracker manufacturer of Barpeta exported crackers worth rupees 1.20crore to Guwahati, Bihar, Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir.
Gupajit Pathak of the Barpeta Atasbaji Silpa Samabay Samiti said that the firecrackers manufacturers do not use barium nitrate, arsenic and lead while making their products. He said the manufacturers use sulphur, potassium nitrate, ashes, aluminium and caston dust in making firecrackers. But the 22nd October order of the Pollution Control Board of Assam (PCBA) shocked the firecracker cottage industry of Barpeta.
The Pollution Control Board of Assam had passed an order in which it had imposed a blanket ban on firecrackers on Diwali. Notably, as per the orders, only green fireworks were allowed to be burst in the time frame of two hours set by the board. As per the orders, the festivities could run between 8 PM to 10 PM on Diwali. Similarly, for Chatt Puja, firecrackers were allowed between 6 AM to 8 AM and for Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, 11:55 PM to 12:30 AM.
The order passed by PCBA has hammered the cottage industry, which the pandemic has hugely damaged in the last two years.
"For the first time in many decades, we have had no bulk orders for handmade firecrackers a few days before the festival. Such demand, in the earlier years, used to be at a peak by October. Our business hinges and thrives on Diwali. But not this year, as the pandemic and the little to no demand for our products has hit us very hard," said Gunajit Pathak of Manoranjan Fireworks at Brindabanhati in Barpeta town.
Reacting to the order passed by PCBA on Monday evening, chief minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma said that the decision was taken by PCBA without discussing the government.
Dr.Sarma said over Twitter, "Assam Pollution Control Board has, reportedly, suo motu, without any consultation with Govt, issued an order banning the sale of firecrackers & other restrictions. We've taken note of this. The entire issue is being reviewed afresh, holistically, keeping people's sentiments in mind."
CM's reaction brings a ray of hope to nearly 60 workers involved in the traditional firecracker making cottage industry. They hope the government will do justice to them and sell their products manufactured with so much hard work.
The order further reads, "Only green crackers can be sold, and bursting is allowed only for two hours during Diwali from 8 PM to 10 PM, during Chhath Puja from 6 AM to 8 AM, which means very less or no sale of firecrackers.
Dalim Pathak, a firecracker manufacturing worker, said we don't know whether our product is green crackers or not. But we use less harmful chemicals than cheap Chinese products.
The Barpeta firecracker industry is a 135 years old cottage industry. Three families of Barpeta town started manufacturing traditional crackers during British rule. Queen Victoria certified them as legal manufacture of firecrackers in this region. But over the decades, the cottage industry has faced many challenges, especially from the cheap Chinese products.
The Assam Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation under the state commerce and industry department had implemented a Rs 7 crore project – Fireworks Village – at Ganak Kuchi a few years back. But it has not taken the shape of a full-fledged industry park. The livelihood of many families is involved with this cottage industry. But this type of order by PCBA will destroy the age-old cottage industry related to our tradition, culture, and belief said local journalist Nabajit Bayan.