Covid, ‘rail roko’ sound death knell for Batala’s foundries

Famed units suffer Rs 300-crore loss after suspension of freight train services

Covid, ‘rail roko’ sound death knell for Batala’s foundries

A Batala-based factory which has fallen on bad days.

Ravi Dhaliwal

Tribune News Service

Gurdaspur, November 21

During the period extending from the 1960s to the early 1990s, chimneys of Batala’s once famed industrial units spewed riches following which opulence and prosperity were all pervasive.

In 2020, the same businesses are living on borrowed time and the men controlling them have slid into depression. These industrialists, who once led a luxurious life, are now seeking solace in prayers.

VM Goel, Foundrymen’s Body Gen Secy

Raw material cost up

Before Covid, pig iron cost us Rs 32,000 a tonne. Now, we get the same for Rs 38,000. Even other raw materials are being sold at a premium.

“If things do not improve in the future, many businessmen will be on footpath. Some are even on the verge of developing mental health disorders,” says Dr Satnam Singh Nijjar, who is regularly in touch with industrialists as Chairman of the Gurdaspur Planning Board.

Not long ago there were nearly 1,000 foundry units considered to be the backbone of Batala’s industrial fabric. These have now dwindled down to barely 300. The prime reasons are the abolition of the Freight Equalisation Policy (FEP) in 1992, exodus of labour during Covid and the non-availability of basic raw material — pig iron — following the ‘rail roko’stir.

The FEP meant that a factory could be set up anywhere in the country and the transportation of goods was subsidised by the Union Government. It proved to be a catalyst in the speedy growth of the industry. However, its abolition virtually rendered the units unviable as the cost price of products, sans subsidy, increased substantially.

Post Covid, the migration of thousands of labourers meant units remained shut. Now, the suspension of trains is acting as the final nail in the coffin for these businesses. VM Goel, general secretary of the Batala Foundrymen’s Association, has written a letter to the General Manager, District Industries Centre, claiming that the non-availability of pig-iron post Covid has resulted in Rs 300-crore loss.

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