Kankala Satyaveni, a 26-year-old farmhand in a small village near Samalkot, was looking for work as farming activity had come to a halt due to incessant rains.
She and several others then agreed to go to work at a firecracker unit a thatched hut which was located amidst fields on the outskirts of the village after being promised a good daily wage by the owner, a man named Palacharala Saibaba.
One day, the workers were preparing flower pots when one of them caught fire, triggering a massive explosion that gutted the thatched hut.
Six of Ms. Satyavenis co-workers perished in the blast, while Satyaveni herself was grievously injured. The incident happened earlier this year.
A subsequent investigation by the police revealed that not only was the firecracker unit not authorised, but the workers also had absolutely no experience of working in firecracker units. The owner of the unit had also failed to bother about following even basic safety precautions, it emerged.
Mishaps occur like clockwork
Illegal firecracker manufacturing units that mushroom across the State ahead of Deepavali are nothing but time bombs waiting to go off.
A toxic combination of easy money and lax enforcement is emboldening businessmen to set up these illegal units and employ labourers who risk their lives making firecrackers. Not a single year goes by without a fatal accident being reported from some village in the State. Non-existent safety measures are the main reason behind the explosions that occur like clockwork ahead of every Deepavali, say officials.
A few days after the incident in Samalkot, a huge quantity of potassium nitrate, aluminium sheets, aluminium powder and other material used to manufacture fireworks was seized by the local police from a house. The material was owned by Saibaba, who had employed Ms. Satyaveni and several others to work at his unit called Indira Fireworks.
The situation is roughly the same for most of the units located in the State, which operate without any authorisation and blatantly flout safety rules thanks
to a complete lack of enforcement.
While the licensed units are being monitored by the fire and police departments, what go unnoticed are the unauthorised manufacturing units and unauthorised storage locations used by licensed unit owners to boost their sales ahead of the festival.
All the manufacturing units should mandatorily have fire extinguishers, a hose reel, yard hydrants, an automatic sprinkler system, manual call point, smoke detectors, underground water storage tank and fire pumps in place so that any untoward incident can be quickly handled to an extent.
In the Eastern Region of the Fire Department, which includes Krishna, West Godavari, East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam districts, there are 113 licensed fireworks manufacturing units.
East Godavari has the highest number of units at 64, while there are 24 in West Godavari and 23 in Visakhapatnam. Krishna and Vizianagaram districts have one unit each while Srikakulam has no licensed unit, according to Fire officials.
A report by the Central Pollution Control Board stated that manufacturing units are forced to work under immense pressure to meet production targets ahead of the festival. "Most accidents reported are due to illegal units operating without valid licences and permits, lack of skilled workers and lack of safety regulations that include stocking excess explosives," it stated.
There is also the problem of workers not having any experience in making firecrackers. "Half knowledge is dangerous, which is also a main reason behind the mishaps. Most workers do not know the quantity of explosive material to be used or mixed in making firecrackers. Most accidents occur either during processing or storage and transportation of fireworks in manufacturing units," an official said.