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Si Sa Ket issues measures to cut accidents and gambling

FROM BEING an ancient tradition in the sixth lunar month, in which Northeasterners fire home-made rockets to ask the god of rain to supply water for farming, the Bang Fai rocket festival nowadays is often an excuse for gambling, and often yields news of accidental explosions claiming people's lives.

After a recent tragedy in Si Sa Ket, the province issued tougher measures to prevent gambling and accidents.

As time passed and technology progressed, the simple rockets made of bamboo and gunpowder changed to those made of plastic or metal pipes, with extra of gunpowder to ensure they soared to greater heights.

Most Bang Fai rocket makers were local craftsmen lacking scientific education, so

some of their products were substandard, leading to tragic news almost every year of |fatalities from accidental explosions. Meanwhile, Bang Fai gambling dens were reportedly popular, particularly in southern Isaan.

In the latest incident, a "Bang Fai Talai" circling firework exploded during a May 3 rocket festival in Si Sa Ket's Nam Kliang district, instantly killing Wat Ban Sabai deputy abbot Luang Por Sanuan Buasri, 65. Police investigation found that the monk set off the Bang Fai Talai at the annual event hosted by tambon Rung Rawee.

This case prompted Si Sa Ket Governor Pratheep Kiratirekha to issue preventive measures including stricter quality control of Bang Fai rocket manufacturing at household factories via temporary licences and the prevention of gambling at Bang Fai events.

The new measures require rocket-festival organisers to notify district and provincial officials at least 15 days before the events and to submit relevant documents, especially approvals of the events by the community and permission from the president of the district's cultural council.

It was also required that the event-organising committee comprised residents of the village where the event was to take place, or of nearby villages, and their names must be checked and certified by the district chief.

Each village could annual-|ly organise only one rocket festival - which could last up to two days, with the rockets |fired only during daytime - and only within the sixth lunar month.

Any village needing to host a Bang Fai rocket festival outside the given time frame because of ethnic beliefs is required to report this to the district office and the province first.

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The district chief must require event organisers to sign an agreement that they will be responsible for preventing gambling and for any injuries, deaths and property damage at the event.

If the authorities find |people gambling, the event |will be cancelled and legal action taken against not only punters but also members of |the event-organising committee, according to the new measures.

A source in Si Sa Ket's Bang Fai rocket-making business circle said all manufacturers these days tried to standardise their methods and advertise their products as reliable and meeting customers' expectations regarding height and how long they stay in the air.

Such predictable rockets would not be useful for gambling and thus were only for preserving cultural traditions, he said.

"If an accidental explosion occurs during an Isaan rocket festival, it is because of either recklessness when the Bang Fai rocket is lit or substandard manufacture, in which case |its maker is responsible [for |the accident]," the source |said.

Despite the strict measures, there is no certainty they could suppress gambling, because if any district office or province is too strict, villagers could rally to oust the officials responsible for the measures.

When a tradition is linked to gambling and competition, investors can use money to lure villagers or local leaders to bend the regulations. As has been seen in the past, well-meaning measures have often been defeated by the power of money. If that continues to be the case, tragedies from accidental explosions, as well as gambling, will continue.


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