Meerut: Jay Prakash, 57, has been making leather cricket balls since he was 14 years old but wants his sons to look for some other vocation as there is no certainty left in this market.
Prakash, who takes small contracts from micro businessmen and has been in this business since the past 43 years, says this is the worst time ever for cricket ball-makers.
Meerut, which is close to the national capital region (NCR), is famous for its sports goods, with the Uttar Pradesh government even identifying the city for its sports industry under its One District One Product (ODOP) programme.
Prakash, who owns a 2,000 square feet (approximately) house in the Nayi Basti area, has been using two rooms and a verandah to make the cricket balls. He has employed two workers on daily wages, other than his son and wife who help him in the business.
“My son knows the tailoring work and just needs to be trained. But I want him to take up some other job and leave this work for me. There is no profit in taking this legacy forward, because nothing matters when you do not earn enough to provide two square meals for your family,” he says.
Disillusioned by the Narendra Modi government, Prakash says,”GST (goods and services tax) is good, but the government should come up with easy platforms to file taxes. As it is, we are unable to recover from the losses that we incurred during the demonetisation drive of the ruling government. We voted for this government after falling prey to the promise of Rs 15 lakh, but that did not work out. This government promised the moon to the masses and the innocent janata (people) brought them to power without knowing the consequences they were going to face.”
Elaborating further on the impact of demometisation on his business, he says, “Bhai sahab aap nahi jaante ki notebandi ke baad hamara kaam dedh saal tak band raha aur hamein abhi bhi dar lagta hai ki Modi ek din fir neend se jagega aur aisa kuch bol dega.” (After demonetisation, our work was stalled for about a year and a half. We are still scared that one day Modi will wake up, and again make such an announcement.)”
Added to demonetisation, the crack down on cow slaughter has further affected the leather ball units, say Prakash, adding that it has been hard to maintain cash flow due to which it has become difficult to hire skilled labour.
“A cricket ball is made with cow leather. The first challenge is finding a person/tannery who can provide us good quality leather without any problem, because in our district and especially in the outskirts, many gau rakshaks (cow protection squads) are active, who harass our people and demand money for taking cow hides. We cannot complain about this to anyone. There is no one, officer or police, to keep a watch on these illegal things,” he says, adding that industries that outsource or buy cricket balls are also not ready to pay a respectable amount and often the payment is also very delayed.
Phoola, 53, Prakash’s neighbour and another cricket ball-maker, says, “It was my mistake to vote for Modi, Yogi (UP Chief Minister). I regret this. I never knew that it will take a toll on our business and both my sons will have to go to Delhi in search of jobs.”
“Na Ujjwala, Na Roti. Kis Kaam Ka Modi,” she says (No Ujjwala Scheme and No Food).
“We got the house during Mayawati’s regime and everything was fine, including our business, till Yogi Adityanath came to power in UP. After that, things started turning wrong. My sons had to leave for other cities with their wives and are not ready to return. I am growing old, and there is no one to look after me. No one is going to tell you about this loss, but this is fact, and I will curse Modi for this even on my deathbed,” Phoola says.
Rahul Agarwal, a small businessman dealing in English and Kashmir willow cricket bats, says the sports goods business has been hit by demonetisation and GST. Earlier there were plenty of labourers and small-time artisans who knew how to give shape to cricket bats, but they have now opted for other professions.
“There is no skilled labour now. The available ones demand an unreasonable amount. It is not possible for small-scale businessmen to pay the demanded price owing to competition in the market and the decline in demand of cricket goods,” Agarwal says.
Yashpal Singh, another cricket ball maker from Meerut, says the sports good industry is on the verge of extinction and in the coming years, people will stop manufacturing sports goods.
“I know a lot of people who left this profession and are now doing something else. The government literally did nothing to preserve this industry and it is slowly going into the hands of big corporates,” Singh says, adding that the benefits of One District One Product is being availed by only those who have good relations with government officers looking after this project. People who are actually working, have fallen prey to the government’s apathy.
A former president of the All India Sports Goods Manufacturers Federation, Surajkund, says the imposition of GST had hit this trade and it seems like “no one is serious about preserving this industry.”
“This time even the baniyas, who were a dedicated BJP vote bank, are upset with BJP... Although Meerut has been included in the ODOP programme for its sports goods, this step is not enough to preserve the industry,” he says, adding that “businessmen of every scale have yet not recovered from demonetisation and then the sudden GST. If this continues, god knows what will happen to sports good manufacturing in Meerut.
It may be mentioned that the sports good industry of Meerut is the largest industry of its kind in the country and is also a source of livelihood to hundreds of families. The industry caters to sportspersons players not only from India, but even abroad.