Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Friday, Dec 13, 2002
Industry & Economy
Variety - Gems & Jewellery
Columns - India Interior
A silver lining for payal workers
A family of workers making ghungroos at Hupari village in Kolhapur district.
HUPARI (Kolhapur), Dec. 12
A MORE than 100-year-old, silver village at Hupari is to get a new home at the Silver Zone on the lands of MIDC (Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation). The Maharashtra Government is setting up the Silver Zone over 100 hectares of MIDC land at Kagal, adjacent to Hupari village, 26 km from Kolhapur district.
Concessional land allotments to various sections of the industry will start in the next two to three months and it will be the first to accommodate workers in homes at the complex. Sitting in his spacious office dubbed Swaraj Bhavan, which earlier was the Irwin Agricultural Museum, District Collector, Rajagopal Deora believes the Silver Zone could be the first of its genre in the country. "Hupari and a few nearby villages such as Pattankoli, Rendal and Tadange apart from Mangur and Barwad in nearby Karnataka have a more than 100-year tradition of manufacturing silver ornaments in village homes. With the Silver Zone, the industry could get slightly organised and the workers live in a better environment. There is also the possibility of deploying modern machinery," said Deora.
The MIDC at Kagal has 1,045 hectares with the Silver Zone taking up 100 hectares. It took a few rounds of discussions before the Government agreed to the idea of allowing residential quarters in an industrial estate. Land will be allotted to some 1,100 member-owners of the Chandi Kharkana Udyojak Association, Hupari, with business scheduled to start in about a year's time. Some think village in and around Hupari will co-exist with the silver zone.
G.D. Malik, Vice-President of the Association, whom one ran into at a handicrafts fair in a Kolhapur hotel traces the history of the largely unregulated silver ornaments industry at Hupari village to the days of Sahu Maharaj. "It started with a regular demand for silver ornaments from the Kolhapur royalty. During festivals, elephants and horses were clothed with silver," explains Malik. Various departments of the Maharashtra Government have issued identity cards to members of the association to buy raw silver (bar and scrap) for conversion into ornaments. Malik gives the impression of everything being above board, but others in the know disagree.
Perhaps it is not the association but the stiff-faced sarafs (mainly Marwari Jains with a few Maharashtrians) squatting on cotton gaddis in shops on Gujri Road, behind the famed Mahalakshmi Temple in Kolhpaur town, control the business. There are a few in Mumbai and Jaipur who also have a large say in the business. They cart in raw silver (50 per cent in bars and 50 per cent in scrap) from Coimbatore, Mumbai, Jaipur and Delhi for sale to members of the association for conversion into ornaments. An exchange of raw silver for processed items plus five per cent silver as waste is the operational norm. Silver quotations change daily and in recent days, raw silver has changed hands at around Rs 7,000 per kg. The association members get a processing charge of around Rs 500 plus five per cent as silver waste for handing over ornaments to traders at Gujri Road. The traders thrive on a 40 to 50 per cent margin on onward sales to various consuming centres. With strong imitation centres coming up in Jaipur and Coimbatore, profit margins are said to be under pressure at around 35 per cent.
Government officials and bankers admit to the business paying income-tax, octroi and other dues before cautiously hinting at substantial leakages. Malik slots the silver village at Hupari in the cottage sector and takes pride in the political clout of the industry. Yet the monthly turnover of the cottage industry is put at slightly over Rs 1,000 crore leading to an annual turnover of Rs 12,000 crore, of which about 40 per cent is business on the books, going by the talk in the town. The association is quite uncomfortable over visits by outsiders and does not relish the prying trips made by police or income-tax officials. A top official admitted to occasional smuggling with silver bars brought in fuel tanks of autos or cars and added, "but all business in precious metals is dicey". There is literally no bank finance with the branch of a nationalised bank boasting of a small Rs 3 crore annual, advance portfolio lent at 13 per cent. "We have enough funds on our own," confirms a member of the association.
Some 20,000 to 25,000 workers scattered over 3,000 village homes in and around Hupari comprise the third part of the industry specialising in making silver payals. "In fact, about 90 per cent of the output in Hupari comprise payals with the rest being allied items," said Naik, a member of the association. The payals range from a weight of 30 gm to 500 gm and could cost between Rs 8,000 and Rs 10,000 per kg in the retail markets. On either side of the Kohpaur-Hapuri village stand crops of sugarcane which at the best of times do not tickle the imagination. It is harvest time and one can spot teams of farm workers busy cutting and loading the crop in bullock carts or tractor trailers. Tiled homes in disorderly rows pack the rather barren Hupari village and form a part of the many-staged payal manufacturing process.
Atni or melting silver is the first stage. Raw silver, placed in moos (vessels made of special mud by a company in Rajkot) are held over charcoal fires to form a boiling white liquid. Two or three ill-clothed men with no protective cover, pull out the moos with giant, steel clippers and pour liquid silver over metal casts to make silver strips and wires. None makes a 100 per cent pure silver ornament; mostly it is 50 to 60 per cent silver mixed with 40 per cent alloys including copper. There are some 200 units in the area melting raw silver with workers earning Rs 9 per day per kg.
A small family at a second home, operates presses to drill small holes in silver strips with the hollowed ends supplied to families making ghungroos (silver beads). In their spare time women spread the tiny, silver hollowed ends on steel plates and join two hollowed halves to form a ghungroo with sharp, steel pencils. These are then knotted by round silver hooks formed out of silver wires. Jaiben Sahebji Mallai (50) has been working on ghungroos for the last 20 years and today is joined by her daughter-in-laws. They could earn Rs 50 to Rs 60 per day per kg but never do as it takes two days to turn out a kilo of ghungroos.
Arc flames are run over steel plates lined with ghungroos to solder them into long strands of payals. Some shops add colour to the payals while others make them musical. At most work spots, young men do the hard work with the female folk taking up the strenuous job of stringing ghungroos. One worker said, "It has been going on for generations and will continue long into the future". Children go to school even while being aware of their future being a live part of the payal trade. But one did not see any woman worker wearing a payal. Of the 100 varieties, the few popular ones are: gunmala, rupali, chum-chum, gajashree, and Hyderabadi. Rajendra Chowgule runs a laboratory to test raw silver and the processed payals for purity for a fee of Rs 3 plus two gm of silver per kg tested. Payals are also being exported but not on a continuous basis.
In Hupari village there is a saying: "Aaj ka karigar, kal ka malik (Today's worker is tomorrow's owner)". There is no evidence to substantiate it. Will it happen when the Silver Zone comes into being?
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