Deepavali despair for firecracker traders as Tamil Nadu government order creates confusion

The Tamil Nadu government recently tightened rules for firecracker shops. However, its subsequent relaxation is taking time in districts.

ByLaasya Shekhar

Published Nov 09, 2023 | 12:00 PMUpdatedNov 09, 2023 | 12:00 PM

A firecracker shop in Chennai.

D Madhan Kumar, a native of the town of Arani in the Tiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu, has been setting up a cracker shop every Deepavali at its main bazaar since 2006. With a licence that is valid till 2024, Madhan foresaw no threat when he ordered stock worth ₹3 lakh in July.

Last week, he opened the shop for this season with a pooja

However, the Revenue Department officials who came for an inspection on Tuesday, 7 November issued notices to 16 shops at the main bazaar — including his.  

“As per their notice, I have to shift the shop from the main bazaar to the bypass immediately. How is it even possible when there are barely three days to the festival?” asked Madhan Kumar. 

The shop was deemed unfit to function as it was close to the bus stop, said the notice. But Madhan claimed his shop was more than 1,000 feet away from the bus stop. 

“Whatever the revenue officials are demanding is unworkable. How can I find a new shop, shift the goods, and inform my regular customers about the shift overnight?” asked Madhan. 

He has no plans to shift the shop; he hopes that the Revenue Department officials understand his situation.

Also read: HC modifies order on bursting of firecrackers in religious places

The new rule

On 29 July, nine persons were killed and 11 injured due to a blast at a firecracker godown in the Krishnagiri district. The blast was reportedly caused by the explosion of a cylinder at an eatery in the same building as the godown

In another accident, 11 workers were killed and 12 were injured in multiple blasts at a firecracker manufacturing unit in the Ariyalur district on 9 October.

On 17 October, at least 14 people were killed and two others were injured due to explosions at two firecracker factories in separate accidents in the Virudhunagar district. 

Subsequently, the Tamil Nadu government released a Government Order (GO) with a new set of rules on setting up retail cracker shops only a week ago, after the series of accidents in cracker units in the state. 

Among them:

1. No tarpaulin roof, outlet has to be in a building.
2. No cracker shops near schools, bus stops and other public places; these should be moved to the outskirts.
3. No cracker shops in the vicinity of shopping malls, petrol bunks, restaurants, and resorts.

District collectors and Revenue Department officials in Tamil Nadu have been issuing notices to traders since then.

Related: Blasts at 2 firecracker units in Tamil Nadu kill 14 people

Traders’ body intervenes

However, the Federation of Tamil Nadu Traders Association held talks with Chief Minister MK Stalin a mere few days ago, resulting in some norms — especially regarding the roofing of the retail outlet — being relaxed.

“These accidents happened at the manufacturing units and godowns. Accidents are not reported in the retail shops. Even if the government wanted to change rules, it should have done it months ago, and not a week before the festival,” Federation of Tamil Nadu Traders Association (FTNTA) Additional Secretary S Rajasekaran told South First.

After these accidents, the Tamil Nadu government is heading out like a blind horse without taking into consideration the lives of thousands of traders,” he added. 

“The state government can set up a committee after Deepavali to chalk out the rules for the next year. This is not the time to withhold licences. There is no time to even file a case in the court,” FTNTA President AM Vikramaraja told South First.

Traders in districts still affected

However, the relaxation seems to have taken hold only in Chennai. The situation has not changed for the likes of Madhan.

“Even though the chief minister reportedly promised to relax the norms this season, implementing it in the districts is taking time,” noted Vikramaraja.

Traders who usually set up shop 10 days ahead of the festival see profits only in the last three days.

For the week of the festival, which is crucial for business, traders finish placing stock orders and paying advance to the shop at least three months before the festival.

Firecracker retailer R Vincent displays his wares in Chennai.

Firecracker retailer R Vincent displays his wares in Chennai. (Laasya Shekhar/South First)

At Rajakilpakkam in South Chennai, 47-year-old R Vincent, who applied for a licence on 25 October, received it only on 6 November. Unlike Madhan Kumar, he applied for a temporary cracker licence online that is valid just for this year.

The Revenue Department initially declined his application as the trader’s shop had a tarpaulin roof and was not in a concrete building.

“This was not the case till last year. The same government that mandated tarpaulin roofing till last year changed the rule only last week. How can we find a new shop in a week?” asked Vincent, who has been in the business for six years. 

“The uncertainty about receiving the licence left me anxious for days. I had sleepless nights,” Vincent told South First.

Nagaraj (name changed), a trader from the Ariyalur district, has been visiting the district revenue office every day to get a licence.

Stating that a shop could be set up only in a building and not under the tarpaulin roof, the Revenue Department has not issued a licence.

He applied for a temporary cracker licence a fortnight ago, but has not received it yet. “I bought firecrackers for ₹8 lakh in August hoping to see some profits. I have not even set up shop yet. Deepavali is not a festival of lights for our family this year,” he said. 

A revenue official from Villupuram, on condition of anonymity, said that the department did not plan on cancelling existing licences.

“It is true that the order came out at the last minute. But we were being strict as that would make traders change the structures. It was done keeping in mind the safety of the public,” said the official.