At a tea kadai in Sanarpatti village, some 13 km from Sivakasi town, a group of men are huddled in animated discussion. It appears to be fairly cheerful chatter until I get close enough to hear the conversation.Each one of them is talking of how uncertain he is about the future. Ever since the firecracker factories shut down five months ago, survival has been precarious, they say, as I join them.We drive past the factories dotted around the village. Once thriving businesses, most of them now have locks on their gates. The roads are so deserted the town could be under curfew.In October last year, the Supreme Court asked firecracker manufacturers to produce only ‘green’ or low-emission crackers to reduce air and noise pollution. Chemicals such as lead, mercury, arsenic and barium, which give colour, bang and sparkle to crackers, were banned. A win for public health. But for Sivakasi, the town responsible for 90% of the country’s firecrackers, the verdict was a blow. Known as little Japan for the spiralling growth of its 70-year-old cracker industry, the town is now limping, with lakhs of people left without a job."Big companies like Standard, Sonny, Sri Kaliswari, Ayyan, Arasan have stopped production indefinitely. Some are functioning with just 20% of their staff," says Ishwar Chander Bansal, a fourth-generation supplier of barium salt, a key firecracker ingredient, from Agra. Every year he would transport 21 tonnes of the raw material. It would be lifted within a fortnight after Diwali for the subsequent year’s production. "This time I have sold only six tonnes, and at half the price. And I have paid extra to rent a lorry shed for the stock and to pay for lodgings since last November," he says.When 1,400 units (licensed and illegal) shut down indefinitely late last year, it left nearly 2 lakh direct employees and another 4-5 lakh people in the ancillary industries in the lurch. The decision to shut shop was as much a protest against the Supreme Court order as it was about their inability to rapidly convert to green production.What it has meant, however, is that the town itself seems to have shut down. Prem Chand Sharma runs a popular restaurant on Velayudhan Road. He says his business has been hit for the first time in 35 years. "My eatery would always be brimming over with vendors, agents, dealers and traders from all over India. Now I have retrenched staff and I am running my hotel with only my two sons. People have stopped coming to Sivakasi to trade," he says.Meanwhile, confusion prevails. Constant adjournments, counter affidavits by various petitioners, and a lack of clarity on what exactly an environment-friendly cracker is have left manufacturers scrambling. The newly minted term, ‘green cracker’, grabbed headlines, but doubts remain about its efficacy and practicality.In fact, anybody who has ever earned a living mixing and filling chemicals, rolling and shaping crackers, connecting fuses, packing, labelling, transporting, and selling has by now heard the term ‘green cracker’ but not one of them is quite sure how it can be made. Equally, it’s clear that manufacturers are loath to give up some of the banned chemicals, without which they say Diwali won’t be the same again, either in bang or business.Last November, Sadhana Rayalu, a scientist with National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), told The Hindu that ‘green crackers’ operate on a technology called Safe Water and Air Sprinklers, where reactants such as aluminium or zeolite absorb water to generate heat and enable the explosion, but where the water also acts as a dust suppressant.