Barpeta, Assam: We all know about Chinese firecrackers and how they have become an integral part of our Diwali celebrations. However, if you’re among those who have taken note of the repeated calls to boycott Chinese goods, then those from Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu would feature on your shopping list ahead of the festival of lights.
But come 2019, you may take pride in bursting crackers made in lower Assam’s Barpeta district that is home to the state’s only fireworks industry. And you can do all of that without burning a hole in your pocket.
Despite all odds, the Barpeta Atasbazee Shilpa Samabay Samittee (BASSS) has come up with a plan to sell crackers, which are unique in nature, at every nook and corner of Assam starting next year. If all goes well, the Barpeta fireworks industry may soon start giving stiff competition to products made at its more famous brethren in Sivakasi or Kolkata.
Speaking to EastMojo, Gopjit Pathak, president of BASSS, said that the co-operative society has completed almost all the formalities to give a new and professional look to this historic industry of the state with some of the leading firms in the country having made their commitments.
“Some of the leading firms in the country, especially those from Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, have assured us with help. After this year’s Diwali, we will complete all the formalities and start working on the new plan,” Pathak said.
At present, several raw materials are procured from Kolkata for the fireworks industry in Barpeta, which forces the local manufacturers to pay three, or sometimes four, times more than what they should. This in turn leads to a spike in the rates of firecrackers, which again hits the consumers.
According to the new plan, raw materials will be collected directly from Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu. New packaging and designing of the products will help in reaching out to the existing customers of the state, but at much cheaper rates.
“From the next year onwards, crackers made in Barpeta will be branded with proper packaging. The quality and security aspects of the products will remain the same, though. The prices of the products will be quite less, as we are collecting the raw materials directly from places like Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu,” Pathak added.
Expressing serious concern over the mushrooming of Chinese items ahead of Diwali, the president of BASSS stressed on the need of a united effort to tackle the menace. “We must all work together to put a brake on this. The government should also work in this regard,” he added.
The prices of crackers in Barpeta at present can range anywhere from Rs 50 to Rs 2,500 in the retail market.
History behind the industry
The fireworks industry in Barpeta dates back to about 130 years ago, which is older than the one in Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu. It was started in the district by late Lakshmiram Pathak of Majorhati who learned the basic skills from a Bengali book on Chinese fireworks. It was also recognised by the then Queen of Britain Victoria, who awarded Pathak with a gold medal and two bighas of land.
The speciality of the products lies in the fact that the entire production process is based on a manual system and, hence, the industry here has been able to generate employment to a large number of local people.
With the help of some others in his village, Pathak used to sell fireworks from Barpeta as a vendor in Dispur till 2004. “We used to sell our fireworks on the footpath in the state capital till that year. I still remember that the first day’s sale was Rs 2,000,” he added.
Government apathy causes concern
Expressing concern over the alleged government apathy to improve the condition of the fireworks industry of Barpeta district, Pathak further said that following numerous requests, the State Innovation & Transformation Ayog (SITA), under the state commerce and industry department, had implemented a Rs 7-crore project – Fireworks Village – at Ganak Kuchi covering an area of 12 bighas of land here, but nothing has changed since then, thanks to the apathy of the state government towards the project.
Against the provision of five units, only one unit is working in the village, which lacks basic amenities like consistent power and water supply, among others.
The government apathy towards the much-awaited project has reached to such an extent that the government doesn’t even have the time to inaugurate the project which was announced during the budget year 2010-2011.
Demands towards government
The members of the ten families here, who are traditionally making fireworks, have demanded the state government to take serious initiatives to give licence to businessmen in Assam to sell chemical raw materials at wholesale rates. Demanding adequate training to workers and other village youth under various government schemes, the villagers said, “In order to increase the availability of outlets all over Assam, the government may take initiatives to establish one centre in each district of Assam.”
The Barpeta fireworks industry may be accommodated in various khadi-gram, Artfed or other government-sponsored exhibitions in and around the state.
According to villagers, the government should also make it mandatory to use Barpeta fireworks during all government or government-sponsored functions.
The fireworks industry of Barpeta also uses earthen lamps of different sizes and shapes in large numbers for its various products. As a result of the present condition of the industry, over 200 potter families have also been directly affected.