The bangle industry of Firozabad, better known as ‘Suhag Nagari’, is fast losing its sheen.
The traditional industry of the bangle town is now being replaced by glass units leaving more labourers unemployed due to increased mechanisation.
Earlier a part of Agra, Firozabad was accorded the status of a district in 1989 but not much changed on the ground.
The bangle industry continued to flourish till 1996 after which a sea change was witnessed when Firozabad was included in Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ), the area earmarked around Taj Mahal, following the Supreme Court order on a PIL petition on environmental pollution.
The apex court banned the use of coal in industrial unites falling within TTZ and directed for the use of natural gas as fuel.
With gas becoming an alternative fuel, manufacturing of bottles, decorative items, chandeliers and other glass ware gained popularity.
Just another election
The assembly election seems to generate no enthusiasm as promises remain unfulfilled.
Treasurer of Glass Industrial Syndicate PK Jindal says those in Firozabad have left with little hope for change and poll promises have no value for them.
Referring to public meetings organised in the run up to Lok Sabha election in 2014, Jindal says Narendra Modi had promised that natural gas would be made available on easy terms and low prices.
“Small bangle manufacturing units need gas at lower price. The BJP, however, forgot its poll promise after forming the government,” he says.
According to president of UP Glass Manufacturers’ Syndicate RK Mittal, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav had promised in 2014 that he would impose a ban on the use of plastic liquor bottles to promote glass bottles manufactured in Firozabad but nothing was done in this regard.
“Firozabad still awaits a hospital for labourers. In its place, a clinic operates for two days in a week where doctors refer the case to Agra. Owners of industrial units in Agra believe they will have to survive on their own,” says Mittal.
Impact of demonetisation, election
“After demonetisation, elections have given another jolt to industrial sector in Firozabad. Business has been affected due to restriction on carrying cash during election period,” says Rajesh Agarwal, vice-president of National Chamber of Industries and Commerce.
“Earlier, we had no cash due to demonetisation and now it is the problem of carrying cash. A glass unit with 250 labourers requires Rs 5 lakh cash for payment of daily wages. Digitisation is good but cash is required to run the labour-driven industry. Moreover, uninterrupted power supply and better infrastructure, as provided to the industry in China, is also required,” says Agarwal.
Bangles losing out to glass
According to PK Jindal, treasurer of the Glass Industrial Syndicate, multiple taxation on natural gas has made things worse for the industry.
“A new tax was imposed two months ago on supply of gas. There seems to be a contradiction as a normal coal-based furnace for bangle making was of 3 tonnes in small sector while major players had having capacity of 40 tonnes. After gas was introduced as fuel, big houses brought in 200-250 tonne capacity furnaces,” he says.
“Those engaged in bangle industry use 3000 cubic metre natural gas every day and give employment to 1,000 labourers at more than a hundred units. Factories which have big furnaces utilise 30,000-40,000 cubic metre gas but engage 250 labourers only,” says Jindal, who says bangle industry faces threat from glass industry and not from Chinese products.
“Elections are not new to us and bring no change in the status of the industry. We are waiting for a comprehensive plan to save the identity of Firozabad as ‘Suhag Nagari’ which can only be linked to bangles worn by married women across the country,” he says.
“Plastic and Chinese products are a major threat to glass industry. These products rule in various segments such as lighting, cutlery, head light, and tumbler. These include chandeliers which were once the pride of Firozabad,” says Raj Kumar Mittal, president of UP Glass Manufacturers Syndicate, which has about 50 major players as members.
Denying the charge that glass units are damaging bangle industry, he says despite use of gas, Firozabad continues to be in TTZ area which is affecting business.
Firozabad MLA Manish Asija says despite odds, about 8 lakh people rely directly or indirectly on glass industry. “The union health minister has, in principle, agreed to provide health insurance cards to labourers facing health hazards,” he says.
Manoj Chaturvedi, a medical practitioner, says many patients in the city complain of chest and nasal allergy, tuberculosis and silicosis. “The number of patients has gone down with natural gas being used as fuel in place of coal. However, factors like RSPM and sulphur particles lead to pollution-related diseases,” he points out. The city finds place in top 20 most polluted cities in the world.