GUWAHATI, Oct 28 - Prices of the traditional Barpeta fireworks have skyrocketed this year due to a VAT hike in raw materials and increasing transportation costs. But despite the odds which are staked heavily against them, the fireworks makers are hopeful that with a growing clamour to keep away from cheap Chinese products, the demand for the indigenous fireworks would not be affected.
According to the owners of the Barpeta fireworks factories, besides the increasing cost of production, the recent tragic fire incident at a firecracker factory at Sivakashi (Tamil Nadu) � which had claimed over nine lives � has also affected flow of raw materials from the town.
�We have been facing a shortage of raw materials this time. While the VAT rates have been hiked, cost of transportation (from Kolkata) has also increased. These bottlenecks have forced us to increase the prices of more than double than that of last year�s,� says Gopajit Pathak, owner of one of the industries in Barpeta.
Devananda Pathak, who is retailing the products at Ganeshguri in Guwahati, said the price of an average �Kol Gos� (flower pots of about a feet high) has jumped to Rs 600. �The bigger phuljaris will come for around Rs 120 a stick. The bigger size sky sparkles range from Rs 500 to Rs 2,500,� he said.
More than a hundred variety of fireworks are made by these traditional makers in Barpeta.
�Though the rush of customers is yet to begin, we hope that despite the high prices, people will buy the products as they are soundless and traditionally made. The ban on Chinese crackers has been strictly implemented this time. This should also help us,� Devananda said.
Owner of another Barpeta factory, Deep Pathak, rues that the Government has done precious little to promote the 130 year-old industry.
�On the one hand, the Government wants people to avoid Chinese products and on the other it has turned a deaf ear to the problems of the local manufacturers. The Government could have at least supplied the raw materials through a cooperative to the fireworks factories here. We are facing so much hassles to procure the raw materials nowadays. We get nothing from the Government. Frequent bandhs in lower Assam have also affected the transportation of materials,� he told The Assam Tribune.
The Government has been working on setting up a fireworks village at Ganak Kuchi in Barpeta to house these factories which are currently operating from the houses of the owners. However, the project has remained a nonstarter.
�There is no proper road to reach the proposed village. Moreover, there is no provision of stalls in the place through which we will market the products,� Deep pointed out.
The Rs 7-crore Atosbaji Village Project� a common facility centre � was supposed to be completed in March, 2015. As many as 10 manufacturing units were proposed to be set up over a 30-acre plot allotted by the State Government.
Late Lakshiram Pathak of Mojorhati was the founder of the fireworks industries in Barpeta who started the industry after going through a Bengali book on Chinese fireworks published in 1885 which gave an idea of cracker-making techniques. The industry was also patronised by Queen Victoria who appreciated the work of Lakshiram Pathak and awarded him a gold medal and donated two bighas of land at Bilortarihati Barpeta to ply his trade. In 1910, Pathak was awarded a licence from the British Government.