It’s 7,860 km between India and South Africa, the distance the famous firecrackers of Sivakasi appear to traverse to make it to one manufacturer’s warehouse in Durban. But whenever P Ganesan, proprietor of Sony Fireworks, wants to stock his warehouse in South Africa, they travel about 10,000 km — from China.
“We have a tie-up with a Chinese unit (that makes the firecrackers) and send our products out via China using our label,” said Ganesan, who is one of the leading firework manufacturers in Sivakasi, 450 km south of Chennai.
Sivakasi firecrackers made in China? Ganesan gets his firecrackers made in China, and then obfuscates where they are made. The individual cartons simply say “Sony Fireworks” — there’s no mention of Sivakasi, India or China — but the crate says “Made in China”.
A town of 4 lakh that makes Rs 800 crore worth of firecrackers every year, Sivakasi has had to adopt this ingenious practice after exports plummet by 320 per cent over a decade to no more than Rs 20 lakh today.
There are two, diverse reasons for this: Sivakasi’s fireworks need trans-shipment to reach the world, either through Chennai port or through Tuticorin, 100 km to its west — and then to Colombo or Singapore.
Singapore won’t allow ships laden with fireworks because of tightened safety laws. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, cites security reasons for stopping the transhipment of Sivakasi fireworks.
“Colombo is terrified of anything to do with fireworks because of the LTTE threat,” said M. Selvaraj, a leading Sivakasi manufacturer.
Tying up with the Chinese, then, is the only way out. China is the world’s largest fireworks manufacturer, exporting nearly 95 per cent of its production, earning Rs 5,000 crore every year. There is no chance of Sivakasi matching that figure.
The town’s manufacturers tried to reach the world through other Indian ports but failed. Since 2003, the Centre has allowed export of fireworks through the Nava Sheva port in Mumbai, but exporters say the authorities are so wary that the ships often sail away.
“The authorities think militants could use firecrackers as a cover for moving explosives,” said Ganesan. “We have discussed our problems with the Chief Controller of Explosives in Nagpur, but he was not really helpful.”