Do you ever wonder what links Munger, Modi Nagar, and Sivakasi together? It might not be immediately clear, but these three towns share a common thread in their history. Munger was once renowned for its arms manufacturing, while Modi Nagar thrived with textile mills, and Sivakasi made its name with firecrackers and matchboxes. These towns were bustling hubs of industry, contributing significantly to the nation’s economy.
However, if we fast forward to the present day, a stark transformation has taken place. Munger and Modinagar have lost their industrial lustre and are now mere shadows of their former selves. Unfortunately, Sivakasi is on a similar downward trajectory. The question is, why?
The answer lies in the concerted efforts of a group of individuals often hailed as intellectuals and environmentalists. While they may champion noble causes, their actions prove otherwise. They seem to oppose anything that brings joy or contributes to India’s economic growth, Sivakasi being their latest victim.
Join us as we unearth the challenges facing Sivakasi and examine the clash between environmental concerns and economic progress.
More than just a ‘firecracker hub’
Before self-proclaimed intellectuals and environmentalists, driven by their own agendas, set their sights on Sivakasi, this town held a position in Tamil Nadu similar to what Kanpur meant to Uttar Pradesh: a thriving industrial haven.
Sivakasi was more than just an economic powerhouse; it was a town rich in culture and history, boasting not only a legacy of industry but also spiritual significance. While many may not be aware, Sivakasi is also home to some sacred places like the Badrakali Amman temple, adding to its cultural wealth. Also, it was here that the superstar Sridevi took birth in a village not very far from the main town of Sivakasi. Now that’s one hell of a legacy!
At the heart of Sivakasi’s economy lay three vital industries: firecrackers, matchbox manufacturing, and printing. Within its boundaries, there thrived 520 registered printing industries, 53 match factories, 32 chemical factories, seven soda factories, four flour mills, and two rice and oil mills. The town served as the central hub for firecracker manufacturing across the nation.
In the year 2020, approximately 1070 registered firecracker manufacturing companies in Sivakasi provided employment to an astonishing 800,000 individuals, directly or indirectly. Some private enterprises even boasted annual turnovers exceeding ₹5 billion (US$63 million).
In 2011, the cumulative estimated turnover of the firecracker, matchbox making, and printing industries in Sivakasi was an impressive ₹20 billion (US$250 million). Astonishingly, nearly 70% of the firecrackers and matches produced in India hailed from Sivakasi. The city’s hot and arid climate created the ideal conditions for these industries to thrive.
Furthermore, Sivakasi played a crucial role in the diary production landscape, contributing to 30% of all diaries produced in India. Initially, the printing industry in the town primarily focused on creating labels for firecrackers, but it has since evolved, incorporating modern machinery and technologies to emerge as a dynamic printing hub.
Sivakasi has been more than just an industrial town; it was a vibrant, multifaceted community with a rich heritage, an economic powerhouse that contributed significantly to the nation’s growth, and a place where culture, commerce, and craftsmanship converged in perfect harmony. However, the challenges it faces today threaten to dim the brilliance that once defined this remarkable town.
How did Sivakasi follow the path of Munger and Modinagar
The decline of Sivakasi’s prestige can be attributed to one recurring theme: socialism. Yes, you read it right – socialism, socialism, and more socialism! This same ideology played a detrimental role in the downfall of other once-thriving industrial hubs like Munger, known for its arms manufacturing, and Modinagar, a ghost town stripped of its industrial glory.
But how did socialism cast its shadow over these vibrant industrial centers? Back in 1950, despite a nation battered and bruised, India boasted infrastructure superior to that of countries like Indonesia, South Korea, and even Japan and China. If only we had harnessed the potential of cities like Munger and Kanpur, which were flourishing in their respective industries, India could have emerged as an industrial powerhouse in no time.
However, the Fabian socialism championed by leaders like Nehru and his successors not only stymied our economic growth but also stifled the potential of these industrial towns. The post-independence government, ironically advocating nonviolence, placed severe restrictions on industries, including arms production. Imagine if these industries had been nurtured instead; the landscape and prospects of these towns would have been entirely different. Munger, unshackled by bizarre restrictions, could have become India’s first defense hub in the 1960s or 1970s.
While some reports attribute Modinagar’s decline to family disputes, the real culprit was relentless harassment by trade unionists who frequently called for strikes. Similar tactics had crippled cities like Kanpur, Kolkata, and almost destroyed Mumbai. So, what’s the link to Sivakasi? While some point to accidents and child labor as the causes of its downfall, the truth lies elsewhere.
Environmentalists with vested interests, much like their actions in shutting down the Sterlite plant in Thoothukudi, transformed India from a copper exporter to an importer, have played a pivotal role in the same. Their orchestrated campaigns to ban firecrackers in certain regions, despite contrary research findings on their impact on air pollution, are among the primary reasons why Sivakasi’s industrial sheen is fading.
As uncertainty looms over the fireworks manufacturing industry due to the Supreme Court’s directive to produce only ‘green crackers,’ the eight lakh workers in Sivakasi and its allied industries face an uncertain future. Already, 1.5 lakh jobs have been lost due to various factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic. However, further job losses may be on the horizon if people do not protest against this selective activism that threatens employment in Tamil Nadu and impacts the entire nation.
It’s important to acknowledge that if activists and environmentalists prefer a cracker-free Diwali, they have the option to travel to their favored destinations, such as Switzerland or the USA. However, their actions are affecting hardworking individuals and risking turning Sivakasi into another Munger or Modinagar – a fate that is simply unacceptable. The time has come to strike a balance between environmental concerns and the livelihoods of countless individuals who depend on these industries for their sustenance.
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