Sant Kabir Nagar (Uttar Pradesh): The sound of tinkling copper and brassware from nearly 300 houses at Bakhira in Sant Kabir Nagar was once the music of prosperity. Almost every house in the area once had an informal workshop where a group of artists used to beat bell metal into aesthetic utilitarian products. But today, it conveys a metallic message: the district’s brass and bell metal industries are dying a slow death. Once the pride of eastern Uttar Pradesh for its world famous bell metal, copper and brassware, the cottage industry is struggling for its survival due to lack of remedial measures by successive governments.
Beautifully crafted copper and brass utensils of this region were in great demand across the country as well as outside. However, the painstakingly-crafted wares are no more a common sight in the city of bell metal. But with many artisans switching jobs and others migrating to Daman and other cities in search of jobs, the industry is now on the verge of shutdown.
The brass and bell metal manufacturers in this constituency, which is going to polls on May 12, allege that the state government’s commitment to help district-specific industries and products are turning out to be a lip service only. Raw materials such as zinc, nickel, brass and coal are not easily available. The cooperative society helps source the raw materials but the government plays a negligible role.
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‘GST, Demonetisation Broke Our Backbone’
“We have to buy raw materials from Mirzapur and Kanpur that require transportation cost. We don’t have a market in the district to sell the final product. Therefore, we buy old utensils and recycle it to make new. But again, there is a problem. Under the new taxation system, there is 18% GST (goods and services tax) on purchase of older utensils and 12% on selling of new products. It has further broken our backbone,” Krishna Murari, a manufacturer, told NewsClick.
His problems were echoed by Mahadev Prasad, another manufacturer, who said those whose firms are registered have to pay taxes. Therefore, their products become costlier, while the unregistered manufacturers sell on cheaper prices. “Kabhi yeh jagah swarg hua karti thi, ab nark ho gayi hai (This place was once a heaven for bell metal and brass manufacturers and artists, but now it has become a hell),” he said.
The manufacturers here have stopped production. They now largely work on contract basis. They take orders from big suppliers who give them all the materials required and give them back final products in return for the agreed sum. A large number of manufacturers are no more independent manufacturers. They have begun repairing work.
“There is no lathe, press and rolling mill. Earlier, the area had two private rolling mills which have been shut for a long time. The mill is essential for making thin sheets of bell metal which are needed to make plates and trays. In the absence of the rolling mill, we have stopped manufacturing plates. We have been doing this work for generations. The times have changed. We – who were owners of workshops – have now become daily wage labourers,” he said.
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Under the brassware cluster scheme of the central government, a big mill comprising all machines essential for the industry was to be set up with an investment of Rs 1.5 crore. So far, only land has been acquired for the same. No further progress has taken place.
“Had this mill been operational, we would have gone there with brass and bell metal, and come back with utensils. We had to pay a nominal sum for the same. But the project has gone to another place because of MP Sharad Tripathi,” said Sri Krishna Singh, who left manufacturing long back and is now engaged in repair work.
He says there is no dearth of repairing work. “We get work from far off places as repairing brass and bell metal products is an art and only skilled artisans can do it,” he added.
One District, One Product Scheme- A Farce
The manufacturers and artisans here complained that they don’t have any government assistance. There is no easy credit. Banks are allegedly denying loan under the ‘Ek Janpad, Ek Utpad Yojna’ (One District, One Product – ODOP), a scheme aimed at giving a push to product-specific traditional handicraft industries in different districts. Under this scheme, banks are supposed to give a credit of up to Rs 5 lakh without any surety.
“We had applied for the loan under the ODOP, but we were asked to mortgage our property papers. How can we submit the house and property papers to the bank for a meagre sum?” he asked.
People are looking for a change this election. “We have been associated with the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the place where you are sitting (Shivaji Nagar, Bakhira) is a hub of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). Because of the BJP MPs inactivity, we gave chance to the SP (Samajwadi Party) and the BSP (Bahujan samaj Party) as well. Since we tested everyone, the one who deserves a chance is the Congress,” said Singh.
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On being asked why they want to give Congress a chance, he replied, “Aap hi hamare anna data hain, agar aap hi nahin sunenge to hamen dusra option talsh karna hoga (You are our sustainer, if you stop listening to us, we will have to look for other options). From pradhan (village head) to MLAs and MPs, nobody listens to us.”
Going down the memory lane, Satya Narayan Singh told NewsClick, “Jab yahan achcha kaam chalta tha tab koi aisa ghar nahin tha jahan brass ya pital ke bartan banana ka kaam na hota ho. Yahan lagbhag 300 gharon men yeh kaam hota tha. Lekin yeh uddyog sarkar ki udasinta ka shikar ho chuka hai (When things were going good, there was not a single house which was not involved in the brass/bell metal products. About 300 household here were associated with the industry. But now, it has become victim of the government’s neglect.”
He said despite the fact that it was a hub of the BJP and no candidate of any other political party even came for seeking votes, people are parting ways with the saffron party because it used them as a “vote bank”.
Raj Kumar Kasera, manager Janata Mazdoor Kasera Rolling Mill, which has been shutdown now, said that his rolling machine used to operate at least 20 days a month. “We used to give Rs 9,000-Rs 10,000 to the government as excise duty everyday. There were five such rolling mills. You can calculate the daily turnover from here. All governments and political representatives have ignored this industry,” he added.