Indian government warns against Chinese fireworks for Diwali festival

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 November, 2013, 7:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 11:24am

A scare over Chinese fireworks has gripped India ahead of today's Diwali festival, with New Delhi asking states to guard against "dangerous" imports from China.

Fireworks are the only component of the annual Hindu festival of lights that is yet to be taken over by the Chinese. Other features of the festival, such as lights, gifts, decorations and idols of gods and goddesses, have mostly come from China in recent years as they are cheaper and vary more  than the local fare.

"The [Chinese] fireworks include potassium chlorate, which is a dangerous chemical and can ignite or explode spontaneously when mixed with a combustible material," the Ministry of Home Affairs warned. "Moreover, the Indian fireworks industry is under threat from these products as these are low-priced due to usage of potassium chlorate."

Indian laws bar fireworks that mix any kind of chlorate with sulphur. Chinese fireworks have been denied import licences on the grounds that they are considered rich in chlorates. But that has failed to stop Chinese sparklers and firecrackers from being smuggled into India.

Last year four containers stuffed with Chinese fireworks were seized at Mumbai's port. But the government estimates that at least 600 containers may have entered India through several ports this year. Large quantities of Chinese fireworks also enter India overland from Nepal.

But in the fireworks markets in Old Delhi's Chandni Chowk area and Chitpur in Calcutta, shopkeepers fiercely denied stocking Chinese items.

"We only stock Sivakasi products," said Raman Sood of Ajit Fireworks in Chandni Chowk, referring to the southern Indian town considered the fireworks capital.

The annual turnover of the Indian fireworks industry is estimated at US$370 million. India is the second-biggest producer of fireworks after China, with most of its products consumed domestically. But the attractive variety and pricing of Chinese fireworks now threaten to challenge Sivakasi's monopoly and the livelihood of more than 750,000 people who depend on the industry.

The Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) estimates that there are US$55 million worth of Chinese fireworks in India.

"The Chinese wax candles, for example, that are selling for 50 rupees [HK$6] would take 200 rupees to make," said Babla Roy, chairman of the All-Bengal Fireworks Development Association.

Apart from fireworks, this cost competitiveness has caused a flood of Diwali-related Chinese imports into the Indian market.