For over five lakh Sivakasi people, it may be a dark Diwali as the threat from Chinese firecracker exports looms large. Abundant firecrackers imports from Chinese markets have hit Tamil Nadu's firecrackers manufacturing industry — the biggest in India.
Illegal import of Chinese firecrackers has forever been a trouble for Indian manufacturers, however, it was never as threatening to them as it is this time round. If Chinese firecrackers flood the Indian markets, it would suffer a loss of ₹6,000 crore.
"Two years ago, the illegal imports of Chinese firecrackers were sporadic. But this year it has been phenomenal, threatening the domestic industry's very existence. Nearly 35% of the products made for this year's Diwali remain unsold because of clandestine imports of several container loads of Chinese products," Sivakasi's Tamil Nadu Fireworks and Amorces Manufacturers Association (TNFAMA) president G. Abiruben told IANS.
The Indian firecrackers manufacturing industries saw their worst fears coming true when demands for bulk orders slumped severely in November-December last year.
"Normally orders are placed around that time by distributors. Orders for this Diwali came down drastically as compared to 2012," TNFAMA senior advisory committee member K. Mariappan said.
He added that the imports of Chinese goods have been happening illegally, without licences and the government has not taken a strong stance at the increasing illegal Chinese poaching of Indian firecrackers market.
"Earlier the central government used to seize container loads of Chinese firecrackers. Instead of being destroyed, the seized products were handed back to the illegal importers after levying a fine. Those products later found their way into the market through other channels," Mariappan said.
The central government had assured the Indian manufacturers that they would issue warning against illegal imports, but nothing has happened yet, he added.
Mariappan further said that the Indian firecracker factories have to follow strict rules and has to ensure authenticity of the products they are selling, which is not applicable in case of Chinese importers who make most out of it leaving Indian industry crumbling behind it.
"Our products have to comply with the noise pollution standard levels and also the packaging rules. Our packets should specify the maximum retail price, the phone numbers in case of any emergency and usage methods whereas no such stipulations are there for the Chinese products," he said.
Worried about this year's business and families of employers working at Sivakasi's firecracker manufacturing industries, he raised his concern about the flourishing illegal Chinese market and its dreadful impact and complained about the lack of facilities to export their products in other countries.
"If external products are allowed to come in, the domestic industry will be wiped out," Mariappan said, adding, "We can export our products but our ports do not accept firecrackers as storage facilities are not sufficient. While the Indian gates are open for illegal imports, the gates are closed for legal exports."