TWO YEARS ago, Sally-Ann Cuffie and her family were driving through Las Lomas taking in the lights of Divali. Suddenly, a scratch bomb darted through the back window of the car and landed near her six-month-old granddaughter. As Cuffie sought to shield her child, the bomb went off. She suffered severe burns, broken finger bones, and even the loss of the tips of some of her digits. To this day, Cuffie has not completely recovered. Injuries like the one she suffered never heal completely. She can drop things when her fingers go numb unexpectedly.
Cuffie’s experience two years ago and its lingering effects to this day are powerful illustrations of the dangers posed by scratch bombs, whether used recreationally or weaponised. No one was ever held responsible for what happened on October 29, 2016.
Memories of Cuffie’s experience came back to mind this week. Three homes and a family business were destroyed, nine people were left homeless, and assets worth $2 million lost after a fire linked to scratch bombs over the Divali holiday. While the Rampersad family of Mc Bean, Couva, are lucky to have escaped serious bodily injury, things could have been worse.
The Summary Offences Act penalises the illegal discharge of fireworks including scratch bombs by a $1,000 fine. The Explosives Act imposes a fine of $20,000 and ten years’ jail for the illicit import of explosives, plus a $2,000 fine for illicit wholesale and a $1,000 fine for illicit retail. Additionally, the Noise Pollution Control Rules, 2000, impose limits.
It is well known that fireworks and scratch bombs are regulated but yet the scratch bomb menace continues. The Explosives Act should be modified to accommodate the diverse range of fireworks and other related explosives, and there should be the development and implementation of fireworks regulations, as recommended last year by the Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on Social Services and Public Administration.
The threat posed by scratch bombs is also a matter of public health. These items can trigger people who are sensitive to them, such as cardiac patients as well as patients with mental health issues.
The bombs are often mistaken for bullets and in the context of high crime levels, this is not assuring. Animals, too, suffer.
We need stiffer penalties and greater enforcement. Retailers need to be better regulated.
It has taken the loss of three houses to bring this issue back to the front burner. But must we wait for another tragedy to strike before we take action? Why do efforts at enforcement and awareness lapse as soon as the festive season is over?