BARPETA, Sept 22 - Despite their toil and the assured quality of their products, those engaged in the 130-year-old traditional firecracker industry of Barpeta are finding the going tough and are apprehensive that sustaining the �sparkling� legacy could no longer be viable in the days ahead.
According to the artisans who have been in the time-honoured occupation for several generations, the absence of government support has ensured that the Barpeta products are sold at higher rates than �the cheap but better packaged stuff from Sivakasi� that have flooded the markets.
The artisans are demanding that the State government recognize the traditional fireworks manufacturing as an industry and provide subsidized raw materials.
�The cost of production in Barpeta is too high to be economically viable. We bring raw materials from Kolkata at very high prices and that reduces our profit margin drastically. Since we do not compromise on quality, we cannot sell our products that are of superior quality to the Sivakasi products at cheap rates,� Ramani Mohan Pathak, co-proprietor of Manoranjan Fireworks, one of the five major fireworks firms of Barpeta town told The Assam Tribune.
The manufacturers of Barpeta who work under the banner of the Barpeta Atasbaji Silpa Samabay Samiti have, however, been enjoying a select and sustained demand base from across the State and also a few other northeastern states.
�It is because of this supply base that we are still surviving, but there has been little growth over the years in spite of the huge scope,� he said.
Unlike the Sivakasi products which are largely machine made, it has been a labour-intensive industry in Barpeta, with women constituting half of the work force.
To make matters worse for the Barpeta industry, cheap and substandard products made in Nalbari district are also being passed off as Barpeta fireworks. �We are now working on a distinct logo for the Barpeta products to check cheap imitations,� Gunajit Pathak, another manufacturer, said.
According to Gopajit Pathak, a leading manufacturer, streamlining the supply chain of raw materials holds the key for the survival of the traditional industry. The raw materials include sulphur, potassium nitrate, cast iron particles and charcoal.
�To have a subsidized supply of raw materials is the single most important for us to survive. The State government has a key role to play here,� he said.
The Assam Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation under the Department of Commerce and Industry had set up a �Fireworks Village� at Ganakkuchi area a few years back, but the project has turned out to be a white elephant. The sprawling campus developed at a cost of Rs 7 crore now wears a deserted look with the complex locked down.
�Lack of power and water supply has ensured that the spaces allotted for five units have remained unutilized,� Gunajit Pathak said.
The prices of the Barpeta products range from Rs 25 to Rs 2,000 in the retail market.
�Most of our sales take place during Diwali but we also supply for the Raas festival and for occasions like weddings,� he said.