Kannauj does not smell heady anymore. An eerie silence hangs over the ornate gates of perfumeries dotting the dusty town. It has nothing to do with its peaceful environs rather the local industrial slump.
The centuries-old ittar (essence) manufacturing trade is dying. The handful of manufacturers wage a war everyday to keep their shop-floors running. But market trends have forced a change in the product range.
Old perfumers who once prided on their traditional aromas are now switching over to real estate. Some have even moved out of the city.
Nearly 100 of 800 perfumers in Kannuaj are reeling from the impact of high input cost that make the end products costlier when they reach the domestic and international markets. "The few sandlewood oil mills that were operational have closed down during the last two years. It has added to our problem as sourcing sandlewood is difficult," Atul Jain, Director of Pragati Aroma Oil Distillers Pvt Ltd, said.
Sandlewood oil costs Rs 50,000 per kg. "Who can afford such high input costs? We still export our products the world over, but then it is just a fragment of what we exported three years ago." The gutka manufacturers were sourcing nearly a third of their flower extracts from perfumers in Kannauj two years ago.
They have now found substitutes cheaper than flower extracts, Jain said. Maqbool Miyan, a traditional perfumer, has reduced the size of his ittar phials because the larger bottles have no takers. "Bigger perfumers have helped save the industry by taking up the problems with the state and central governments."
The total annual turnover of perfumeries in Kannauj has declined from Rs 80 crore in 2001 to less than Rs 20 crore. Nearly half the products head to markets in France and the UK, he said. Pushpraj Jain, vice-president of Perfumers' Association in Kannauj, says the Centre has been unfair in imposing excise duty of 16.5 per cent on perfumers.