Call it ignorance of law or deliberate flouting of law, a vast number of skilled and unskilled labourers are in perpetual risk in firecracker factories in India. The New Indian Express carried a detailed article on this subject recently and reproduced some of the relevant highpoints below. These facts are thought provoking and bare the underbelly of the industry. While crackers are usually symbols of joy and celebration, the plight of their makers is hardly anything to be joyful about. “It’s a Hobson’s choice for blast victims, workers and families dependent on firecracker industry — damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Illiteracy, poverty, and lack of opportunity are forcing these people to work under such dangerous circumstances,” says social activist S Veera Perumal, urging the Madras High Court to take ‘suo motu’ cognisance of the continuing tragedy that leaves hundreds of dead each year. “Though industry sources said eight lakh people are directly and indirectly employed with fireworks units, an RTI reply shows that only one lakh employees are registered under Employees Provident Fund.” “The government has recently announced a welfare board will be established for these workers. It must be done expeditiously. Laws must be made more stringent to ensure that cracker units follow all labour regulations,” he said. Joint Commissioner of Labour Subramanian said, “Every factory that employs more than 15 people must implement social security measures such as ESI and PF. In case of exigencies, workers will get compensation under The Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923, even if the factories fail to compensate.” “Under the Act, legal heirs of victims can get a compensation above `15 lakh depending on the age of the dead. But the department can act only if employees or their kins approach us. In most cases, fire cracker associations act as ‘kangaroo courts’ to fix the issue with the kins,” he added. Kathir, founder of NGO ‘Evidence’ that works for rights of SCs, said his team had visited cracker explosion sites more than seven times and submitted recommendations to authorities, but no action has been taken. “In most cases, factories forced workers in violation of rules to increase production, leading to accidents. These accidents must be treated as murders. Engaging elderly people should be avoided. All employees must be covered under Labour Act. Government must act expeditiously to prevent tragedies, protect employees, and promote innovative technologies in units,” he said. Director of Industrial Safety and Health had issued guidelines for cracker manufacturers to ensure an accident-free Deepavali. Among some of the rules, one was that “Gift box should not be prepared inside the office room or magazine room. Workers should not bring their cell phones to factory and those who have consumed liquor should not be allowed inside the factory.” Rules they often say, are made to be broken but this is one situation where life itself can be at risk if rules are not stringently followed.