Kutty Japan Wants a Not-so-Cracking Job

26th April 2016

- The Hindu

Kutty Japan Wants a Not-so-Cracking Job

If ever there was a town seated on a heap of explosives, yet going about its business ignoring the imminent threat, it’s Sivakasi. If the hundreds of firecracker units here give jobs to thousands, the cost at which the bread is earned is exorbitant. All those entering the premises daily know very well that it could be their last day, for all it takes to snuff out the lives of many is a small spark. As the Assembly constituency gears up for the polls, the top-priority among the voters is alternative employment opportunities for the educated younger generation.

One of the seven Assembly constituencies in the drought-prone Virudhunagar district, Sivakasi is a major hub for cracker and printing industries in the country. Often called ‘Kutty Japan’ due to its advanced industrial set up, over five lakh people are dependent on the pyrotechnic industry for their livelihood. Sivakasi meets about 55 to 60 per cent of India’s requirement of safety matches, employing nearly 55 per cent of the work force in 3,500 units spread across Sivakasi and Sattur. There are nearly 450 fireworks factories, giving direct employment to about 40,000 and indirect jobs to one lakh in ancillary units like box making, sales and distribution.
However, the very units that provide jobs to thousands have been responsible for deaths of many as well in scores of mishaps. In one such unit works R Ramakrishnan (40) from Ramasamypuram. “I have been working here for the past 15 years. I know very well the trade and the dangers involved. Today, even educated youngsters work at cracker units due to lack of better job prospects. I have two sons doing school, and I don’t want them to follow in my footsteps. The government ought to take steps to open new avenues for the educated youth,” says Ramakrishnan.

For V Kani (39), from Muthalnaickenpatti near Sattur, it’s the meagre wages that makes the profession a taboo for his children. “Despite being in this line of work for over 13 years, I take home a measly `300 a day. I have three children at school. It’s rather difficult for me to make ends meet. Moreover, mushrooming of illegal units has reduced the number of work days,” says Kani, adding that officials ought to crack their whip on such units, as they were not only robbing people of their livelihood, but also putting lives of many at risk.
In a dry region, erratic water supply could spell doom, feels 32-year-old S Sendhilkumar. “During summers, there is a widespread drinking water crisis. The civic bodies manage to supply water only once in a week or 10 days. For the poor, it is impossible to shell out money for bubble top cans,” the firecracker unit worker adds.

Another area the town aces is in the printing industry. Renowned world over for its advanced printing set up, the 450 units in Sivakasi employ over 50,000 people. High-security jobs like printing bank cheque books, flight and lottery tickets are undertaken by the units. The printers here have successfully competed with international bidders in bagging orders for children’s books, magazines, trade labels among others.


Sivakasi was given the name ‘Kutty Japan’ by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru due to its widespread industrial activity

P Ayya Nadar, an entrepreneur, and A Shunmuga Nadar jointly established the first match unit in Sivakasi called ‘The South India Lucifer Match Industry’ in 1923

S Kaliappa Nadar paved the way for printing industry by establishing Sivakasi Industrial Printing Works in 1937

Sivakasi has the second largest concentration of Litho and Offset machines after Guttenburg in Germany

I’ve been working here for the past 15 years. I know the dangers involved. Today, even educated youth work at cracker units due to lack of better job prospects — R Ramakrishnan, Cracker unit worker

During summer, there is drinking water crisis. Civic bodies supply water only once in a week. For the poor, it is impossible to shell out money for bubble top cans — S Sendhilkumar, Cracker unit worker.

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