A decade after commissioning, Irapuram park still a work in progress

Nearly a decade after it was commissioned, Rubber Park India Limited at Irapuram — which claims to be the first industrial park in the world exclusively for rubber-based units — still looks a work in progress.

As work on the State’s second rubber park got under way at Pathanapuram, in Kollam district, on Saturday, a former bureaucrat in the State industries department said the 107-acre Irapuram park was doing “not so bad”.

“We are producing mostly intermediaries and the rubber park can do still better,” said the official, who did not want to be named. The Irapuram park, established at a cost of less than Rs.30 crore jointly by the Rubber Board and Kerala State Industrial Infrastructure Corporation (Kinfra), had to get into more value addition, the official said.

Even centres where no natural rubber was produced were selling finished rubber products in Kerala. He pointed to several sophisticated products that found their way into the Kerala market from States such as Punjab.

One of the key issues that have been raised is the underutilised capacities in power and water supply. The 25 MVA power distribution facility and three million litres per day water supply infrastructure are underutilised adding to overhead expenditure.

“The case of the ambitious JJ Murphy Research Station and Laboratory at the park, established at a cost of Rs.4 crore, is glaring,” said a former industries department official. The laboratory facility had turned merely into a testing facility while it could have been put to use for research and development in the sector, he said.

“It was planned as the bridge between industry and academy,” said the official. He also explained how several abortive attempts were made to get the Cochin University of Science and Technology and Mahatma Gandhi University to approve the JJ Murphy station as centres for research leading to doctoral degrees.

The initial plan was to enlist researchers, who would use the Irapuram laboratory, sponsored by corporate entities. However, that has not taken off so far. On another front, the park still continues to be riddled with some contradictions in the world of labour culture.

“Despite the park being on the brink of its 10th anniversary, teething troubles appear to continue,” said an officer of one of the units at the park. One of the key issues, he alleged, was intense political interference in the working of the units. They were conceived as independent units, obeying laws of the land, but taking their own decisions when it came to employment.

Incidents in August 2012 that led to two months of lockout and subsequent reconciliation between the management and labourers are still fresh in the minds of the entrepreneurs, who have set up shop at the park.

“However, it appears that the phase is now passé with the workers becoming more aware of the ground realities,” the officer said. He admitted that the past six to eight months had been quite peaceful after incidents in which a few personnel from a unit in the park were manhandled.

The convenor of a joint committee of trade unions, to which the nearly 1,000 workers at the park are affiliated, said all action by the labourers were based on collective decisions. He refuted allegations that there were political interferences in the working of the park’s units.

An official said the park had only about an acre to be allotted. A total of 35 units have been allotted land and 28 are up and running. If the land is not used within a year of it being allotted there are provisions to take it back. The plots are leased for periods extending up to 90 years. The park has seen investments to the tune of Rs.400 crore since its commissioning.

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