Sivakasi is a town and municipality in Virudhunagar District in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The town is known for its fire cracker, match and printing industries. The industries in Sivakasi employ over 25,000 people with an estimated turn over of ₹20 billion (US$310 million).
Sivakasi was established in the 15th century during the reign of the Pandya king Harikesari Parakkirama Pandian. The town was a part of Madurai empire and has been ruled at various times by the Later Pandyas, Vijayanagar Empire, Madurai Nayaks, Chanda Sahib, Carnatic kingdom and the British. A major riot during the British Raj took place in 1899.
Sivakasi has a dry weather, making it suitable for dry crops like cotton, chillies and millets. Badhrkali Amman temple is one of the most prominent landmarks of the town. Sivakasi is a part of Sivakasi constituency and elects its member of legislative assembly every five years, and a part of the Virudhunagar constituency that elects its member of parliament. Sivakasi is locally administered by a special-grade municipality which covers an area of 6.8 km2 (2.6 sq mi).
The economy of Sivakasi is dependent on three major industries: fire crackers, match manufacturing and printing. The town has 520 registered printing industries, 53 match factories, 32 chemical factories, seven soda factories, four flour mills and two rice and oil mills. The town is the nodal center for firecracker manufacturing at the national level. In 2011, the industry employed over 25,000 people and some of the private enterprises had an annual turnover of ₹5 billion (US$77 million). In 2011, the combined estimated turnover of the firecracker, match making and printing industry in the town was around ₹20 billion (US$310 million). Approximately 70% of the firecrackers and matches produced in India are from Sivakasi. The hot and dry climate of the town is conducive for the firecracker and match making industries. The raw materials for these industries were procured from Sattur earlier, but was discontinued due to the high power and production cost. The source of raw materials is Kerala and Andaman. The paper for the printing industry is procured from various states. The town is a major producer of diaries, contributing to 30% of the total diaries produced in India. Printing industry in the town was initially utilized for printing labels for the firecrackers and later evolved with modern machinery to grow as a printing hub. In 2012, all the industries suffered 15–20% production loss due to power shortage and escalating labor cost.
The major issues in the fireworks industry in Sivakasi is child labour and frequent accidents. In a blast in 1991 in a factory, 39 people were killed and 65 others were injured. In July 2009, more than 40 people were killed in a fire accident in a firecracker unit. The police traced out unregistered units and irregularities that led to the accident. In a fire accident in August 2011, seven people were killed and five were seriously injured. A similar fire accident and blast in a private unit in September 2012 killed 40 people and injured 38 others. The common reasons cited for the accidents are inadequate training of workers and supervisors involved in different stages of production and marketing of firecracker items. Other reasons are found to be overstocking of explosives, raw material and finished goods, and employment of workers in excess of the permitted strength.
Child labour in the industries, especially in match making factories, was at its peak during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1981, the child work force in the age group 4–16 was 30% of the total work force, 90% of whom were girls. In 1986, the National Child Labour project estimated child labour in Sivaksi match making industries to be 14,121 children. The estimates indicated 80% of the child labour belonging to Scheduled Castes (SC), who were margianlised for centuries for cheap labour. Poverty and lack of farm produce were stated as the main reason for child labour. The employers also preferred children because of ease in management, discipline and lack of labour unions. The children in these industries suffered from back ache, neck ache, tuberclosis, malnutrition, gastointestinal disorders, dermatitis, respiratory disorders, over-exhaustion, burn injuries and water borne diseases due to exposure to harmful chemicals in the work environment. The situation of the child labour came to light during an accident of a bus transporting the children in 1976.
The central government appointed a one man committee under Harbans Singh in 1978, who reported abolishing child labour would seriously impact the economy of the region. The National Policy on child labour was formulated by the central government in August 1987, aiming at the rehabilitation of children withdrawn from these factories. In 1988, the union labour ministry initiated a programme for providing informal education, free health care and free lunch for children working in the factories.
The Supreme Court of India, in a judgement ruled on December 1996 indicating provisions for preventing child labour like compensation for the child employed, employment to the adult members of the family and contribution to the corpus fund by the state government. From the establishment of child labour Act in 1986 till 2011, 150,000 inspections on child labour have been conducted in the factories, 1,500 cases have been registered and few prosecutions have been made. The results indicated small amount of child labour in cottage and house hold industries.