Bihar polls: Amid tall claims on jobs, total silence on revival of industrial units shut for 30 years

At least 11 of 15 sugar factories in north Bihar were shut in the mid-nineties. Some had to shut because of power supply problems. No initiatives were made to reopen them.
File photo: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar at an election rally at Valmiki Nagar in West Champaran, Bihar.(Santosh Kumar/ Hindustan Times)
File photo: Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar at an election rally at Valmiki Nagar in West Champaran, Bihar.(Santosh Kumar/ Hindustan Times)
Updated on Oct 30, 2020 04:43 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Muzaffarpur | ByAjay Kumar Pandey | Edited by Sparshita Saxena

Even as the issue of unemployment has gained resonance this Bihar election and at least two political parties have promised to create jobs in huge numbers, there is near-total silence on the revival of industrial units, private or public, which once used to dot the landscape in north Bihar before they shut shop over the last three decades.

On an average, these small-scale industrial units used to employ nearly 1,000 people each and produced or manufactured a wide range of products, ranging from sugar, medicines, heavy machinery to oyster buttons, popularly known as sap button industries.

Talking about sugar factories alone, there were 15 of them in north Bihar only, each employing at least 1,000 people and buying produce from 25,000 farmers.

“At least 11 of them were shut in mid-nineties, mainly due to demand of extortion money from local strongmen. Some had to shut because of power supply problems. No initiatives were made to reopen them, except for two at Sugauli and Lauria which were restarted on the initiative of the then secretary with the government of India and now MLA from Bagaha, RS Tiwari,” said Sanjay Kumar Pandey, a marginal farmer from Sugauli.

Radheshyam Sah, a former employee of Motipur sugar factory in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district, says, “I was the sole bread earner in my family. But the mill was closed in 1996 after two temporarily closures. Since then, 600 of its permanent employees and 1,200 temporary workers have been left to fend for themselves. Neither the state nor the union government has taken any initiative to reopen it.”

Things are no better for oyster button-based industries at Mehsi in east Champaran district. The industry was started by an enterprising inspector of schools, Bhulawan Lal, an inhabitant of Mehsi, who began handcrafting buttons from oysters found in the river Sikrahna in 1905.

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“We earned Rs 10,000 to 50,000 every month. But things completely changed in mid-nineties when criminals started demanding extortions. Small-time entrepreneurs shut their establishments. The big ones shifted their trade to places outside the state,” says Md Maqbool of Mehsi, who once ran his own oyster button business.

Maqbool says more than 10,000 people in the area were engaged in nearly 150 oyster-based units which manufactured buttons and fancy wall hangings.

The latest industry to shut shop is Bharat Wagon, an enterprise of Railway ministry, which used to produce 200 goods wagon every year at very low cost at two units situated in Muzaffarpur and Mokama. Both were shut last year.

“Around 1,600 employees from Muzaffarpur unit have lost their livelihood,” said SK Verma, president of its employee’s federation.

Apart from these, nearly 150 industrial units engaged in production of agricultural products and chemicals and located in industrial estates closed in the last 30 years.

Experts feel that if these industries are opened again, the issue of unemployment would be resolved to a great degree. “And once the youths start getting jobs, the crime rate will also go down. But no government showed inclination. The Nitish Kumar’s government, which paid attention to issues like safe drinking water, uninterrupted power supply to each household and sanitation, apart from concrete roof topped houses, never thought of it,” says Krishna Mohan Prasad, a retired university teacher.

Md Iqbal Shami, general secretary of the RJD and spokesperson, claimed efforts were made to revive some of these units during the RJD’s tenure. “I am sure this issue is on Tejashwi Yadav’s mind when he makes announcements of providing jobs to youths,” he said.

Suresh Kumar Sharma, MLA from Muzaffarpur and minister for urban development, said PM Narendra Modi-led union government had tried a lot to save the Bharat Wagon units. “But both units were running in heavy losses. Even the decision to shut these units was taken during the UPA government. To compensate, we have started a rail engine manufacturing unit at Madhepura,” he said.

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Thursday, December 02, 2021