While Centre publicises 'Make in India', Ambala's scientific equipment manufacturing industry faces atrophy

While Centre publicises 'Make in India', Ambala's scientific equipment manufacturing industry faces atrophy

While Centre publicises 'Make in India', Ambala's scientific equipment manufacturing industry faces atrophy

Ambala: The winds of change uprooted a giant model of a microscope that used to welcome visitors at the gateway of Ambala a few years ago. //what happened to this microscope monument?// (It is no more present- due to developmental projects it has been removedAn iconic landmark that represented the area’s renowned scientific equipment manufacturing industry, its evanescence has left behind a disturbing parallel on the ground.

The industry, which had transformed the economic scenario here, has witnessed stagnation over the past few years. According to the Ambala Scientific Instruments Manufacturers’ Association (ASIMA), there are 3,000 big and small units that make the equipment; the industry’s annual turnover is Rs 1,700 crore, with exports amounting to Rs 500 crore. Industrialists claim that the Haryana government has given minimal facilities and no incentives for the industry’s expansion.

Among the oldest and biggest conglomerates of scientific instruments, the units here manufacture a range of products, from microscopes and rheostats to laboratory devices, which are used in experiments on heat, sound, magnetism, plant physiology, biology, and pharmacy in educational institutions and elsewhere. These firms also serve as vendors supplying lenses and prisms to government bodies, namely ISRO and DRDO, and multinational companies, such as Nikon and Zeiss.

Lack of government support, non-subsidised electricity and land, financial constraints, inability to innovate, lack of institutional support for new technology, and credit and marketing mechanism are some of the factors responsible for the industry’s atrophy. “The cost of making a basic microscope was Rs 1,200-1,300 five years ago; it has now escalated to Rs 2,000 due to costly raw material,” says Dheeraj Bahl, owner of a scientific equipment manufacturing unit situated in Ambala cantonment’s industrial estate.

The influx of ‘the dragon’— cheap Chinese equipment at unmatchable rates — has worsened matters. For example, China exported prisms, mirrors, and other optical elements worth Rs 84,170 lakh in 2017-18, an almost seven-fold increase from the previous year when the imports were Rs 13,121 lakh.  In 2013-14, India was importing only Rs 8,406 lakh worth of optical products from China. Exports too have dipped. Bahl recalls how the Ambala units that exported heavily to the Gulf among other countries are now confined to fewer countries and inter-state deals.

“The burden of rising raw material costs, manpower, land, and even energy is eating into the already receding margins of cluster firms hit by the Chinese market. It’s only our individual efforts that have kept us afloat in these times; the government hasn’t helped,” he adds.

The Haryana government provides subsidy on machinery import, due to which many units have set up huge machines to carry out their work efficiently. ///??? If the government has taken some positive measures, can we explain them in some detail please, so that it doesn't look like a one-sided piece? was this specifically targetted at this industry. // ( The government provides subsidy on machinery that is imported from Germany and Japan specifically for this industry. It is because of the subsidy that many owners import machineries at subsidised rates. No it is not a targeted scheme for this industry)

The annual turnover of medium and small-scale enterprises, which used to be Rs 3 crore on an average in 2014, has now increased to Rs 9 crore, approximately //what is this increase in turnover being credited to//( because of machinery import, more products in less amount of time can now be made as earlier it was dependent on indigenous and less modern machinery. more products leads to more turnover); however, industrialists’ margins are being squeezed. Surinder Sehgal, a manufacturer who deals with stoppers used in medical industry, says, “Our products are already expensive. Any increase in the selling price carries the risk of losing our market entirely.”

In the last decade, many manufacturers from the area have become traders. “Almost 20% of the manufacturers are now into trading due to the high cost of production here,” says Rakesh Gupta, a manufacturer and former president of ASIMA.

In the past few years, a large number of local manufacturers have started importing components from China and assembling them into laboratory instruments. This has helped them to cut costs while maintaining consistency in equipment design. It has also helped the Ambala industry in breaking the monopoly of the big players in the market.

Ambala's story, and that of many other manufacturing hubs across the country, is a scathing indictment of PM Modi's famed Make in India campaign that was supposed to build capability and foster innovation across 25 sectors. But from cycles in Ludhiana to sports equipment in Jalandhar, everywhere over the past term, manufacturers are turning traders under the onslaught of cheap Chinese imports. Rahul Gandhi stressed on this in his campaign in Tamil Nadu's Krishnagiri district where he mocked "Make in India", saying the country's market was now flooded with Chinese products.

An industry in atrophy

A major issue that the local manufacturers brought forth was poor coordination between government departments and the industrialists. “The government officers who approach us over various issues, be it pollution or tax or something else, come with vested interests and ready to impose heavy fines. No one gives us suggestions on resolving those issues. The government should should tell its officials to change their mindset and help us flourish, not shut down,” adds Gupta.

“Ironically, the implementation of GST brought us relief, because it reduced the number of government officials harassing us.”

 Meanwhile, the labourers who are part of this industry are fighting their own battle for survival. The industry is facing a severe shortage of skilled labourers these days. On one hand, manufacturers are demanding setting up of a common facility that will provide skill development, and on the other, labourers are barely making it through. //??? are we saying they barely make ends meet// ( can not be generalised for all since some earn around 20000 per month but the work pressure is too much and they are not paid at par with the work they do)

According to ASIMA, the big and small units in Ambala provide employment to nearly 30,000 people. While women are found doing the less technical tasks in these units, the men are hired for the more technical roles. “No one wants to enter this industry anymore. The workload is extreme and wages are meagre,” says Ajay, a skilled worker whose father, too, was in the same field. These days, workers earn anywhere between Rs 9,000 and Rs 20,000 per month.

Repeated appeals to the state government for support to revive the industry have fallen on deaf ears.

In 2013, the state government had initiated a Rs 100-crore Tool Room Project at Saha near Ambala to help the industry, but it failed to take off. //do we not have any information about this? What was it and why did it fail in just 3-4 lines. because Selja is also talking about it again below.//( It was basically a tool room project that was put up by Congress govt in Saha to meet enhanced and ever growing demand for tooling, product and process development as well as skilled manpower. Basically it was supposed to provide technological support to MSMEs and train around 10000 men-women every year. It failed because Haryana state government changed in 2014 and the project was never taken up again ) ARE WE NOT USING KUMARI SELJA'S QUOTE? In the early 1980s, an instrument design development and facility centre was opened in Ambala, but it was closed down due to poor response from the local industries and alleged government apathy.

“A common facility centre is part of the government policy. If the government provides some assistance, these units can generate more employment. The local industry also has the capability to beat the Chinese industry and capture a bigger market share, both in the country and overseas,” says ASIMA president Jitender Sehgal.

Badish Jindal, former chairman of the National Productivity Council and a Punjab-based industrialist, calls it a policy issue, as there is no scheme for technology upgrade, which is a major issue plaguing this industry. The absence of a central or state government policy to provide skilled labour is glaring, and where there is a policy, there is no incentive for its implementation.

Saraswati vs Science

It's difficult to not contrast this with the frenzy of spending in Ambala on projects worth crores for the rediscovery of the mythical Saraswati river, including restoration of various heritage sites along its purported course. Saraswati river holds cultural importance as Vedic literature was written on its banks. It was in 1999 that Padma Vibhushan Darshan Lal Jain (now 99) started an aggressive movement — Saraswati Nadi Shod Sansthan — to conduct research on the river. With a right-wing government at the Centre and the state, efforts to establish the existence of this river has become somewhat of an obsession. In 2015, the Haryana government constituted the Haryana Saraswati Heritage Development Board (HSHDB) for research on and restoration of the river.

One of the 11 projects under this goal, for example, is the memorandum of understanding signed between HSHDB and the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) under which the latter, which is currently the highest profit making PSU in the country, will develop 100 wells on the flow path of the river, as per the survey conducted by WAPCOS, another public sector enterprise under the aegis of the Union Ministry of Water Resources. HSHDB deputy chairman Prashant Bhardwaj is keen to explain why the river projects are important. “The projects include construction of a Somb Saraswati barrage, Saraswati reservoir, an Adi Badri dam, and other development works in Himachal Pradesh and Haryana’s Yamunanagar district, besides inter-linking of Markanda river with Saraswati. The projects will be beneficial for seven states — Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Punjab. Rejuvenation of Saraswati river is beyond political lines,” he says.



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