If you have postponed taking a photocopy of an important document to the last minute, secure in the knowledge that there is always that shop next door, you might be in trouble. As per an order issued by the Union government recently, the import of second-hand digital multifunction print and copying machines used in most neighbourhood photocopying centres, is to be banned across the country, and they are to be phased out by 2013.

The increasing shortage of these machines in the market has dealt a body-blow to many small-time photocopiers. “The cost of printing may have come down over the years, but the costs of the machine and paper have gone up,” says S. Jayakumar, who runs Kumaran Xerox Centre in Triplicane. His major source of income, till a month ago, came from the photocopier, as the cyber café and telephone booth that he runs, no longer attract many users. “The machine needs to be replaced now, but dealers say there is a shortage,” he says.

Government officials say the ban is to reduce the amount of waste dumped in developing countries as photocopiers have been classified as a hazardous waste. Dipender Soni, a senior official in the Ministry of Environment, points out that the move would also help crack down on tax evasions in cases where individual spare parts are assembled into the final piece. In India, until now, old machines were imported from different countries, refurbished and sold to small-time dealers and then to entrepreneurs.

While an original machine may cost well over Rs. 25 lakh, second-hand ones cost not more than Rs. 2 lakh here, say photocopiers. There are no Indian alternatives around as the industry has not invested in establishing manufacturing units for these products, they add.

“The import of second-hand machines has been going on for many decades,” says Vijay Baid, president, South India Copier Dealers' Association. “And they have been providing employment opportunities to thousands of young entrepreneurs and unskilled people,” he adds. The association estimates that there are 15,000 machines being used in the city with 4,500 in Triplicane alone. The boom in the number of engineering sector with all students having to submit a mandatory project report every year proved a blessing for these vendors.

“Lawyers too are reliable clients. We get at least Rs. 300 a day from them,” says A. Jayasheelan, of Star Xerox in Adyar. K. Nagarajan, who runs 20 ‘Student Xerox' centres across the city, says he imports only branded products and does not use second-hand machines to ensure quality.

“But we also charge the customer more, at least over Re. 1 per copy,” he adds. Smaller vendors, who offer photocopying services as side-business and charge anywhere between 30 paise and 50 paise per copy, would not be in a position to afford Rs. 25 lakh for a machine that Mr. Nagarajan and many exclusive photocopiers do.

“Most of us do not have even have air-conditioning, which is important for the machine. The wear-out rate of these machines is less than four years, and due to unavailability of spare parts, including roller drums and toner, we need to replace the machines,” says N. Sivakumar, of Perfect Xerox in Mylapore.

Three of his centres in Ambattur closed down after he was unable to replace worn-out photocopiers and he holds fort at his last remaining centre in Mylapore. “After a few months, all small shops will either shut or look for other sources of income. Only the bigger photocopying centres in commercial complexes will stay,” he says.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012

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