A visit to the AFT premises nowadays is like walking into a ghost town

The fate of a unit that rose to fame as one of the biggest textile enterprises in South Asia, hangs by a slender thread, so to speak.

One of the few surviving industrial vestiges of the pre-British era in this former French enclave, the Anglo French Textiles, once known as Rodier Mill, established in 1898 by a London-headquartered firm, was once a great exporter of cotton fabrics to the U.S., the U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Australia and Belgium.

In 1899, the mill was even provided with a railway branch line connecting the Pondicherry-Villupuram railway mainline to facilitate the transportation of goods.

What a contrast the unit presents today! It struggles to stay afloat amid losses, lack of work orders and the real threat of turning obsolete. The future of its workforce has never looked bleaker.

Today, a visit to the AFT premises is like walking into a ghost town. The sprawling premise sports a deserted look. There is no sign of any activity on the campus portion housing the ‘A’ and ‘B’ units. A massive structure housing the machinery is in dilapidated condition and equipment is severely corroded - a stark sign of lack of modernisation.

The Government of Puducherry took over the company in 1986, considering the importance of the mill for the economy of the State. A separate company called Pondicherry Textile Corporation Limited was incorporated to take over the Anglo French Textile Mills Limited. When the government took over the mill in 1986, the workforce was 5,815.

According to the management, there are 1,045 workers and 168 staff working in the mill. Despite several hardships, the ‘C’ unit at Iyyakankuttipalayam - where weaving and spinning is done - has been functioning successfully.

The State government has, so far, pumped in Rs.548 crore for the welfare of workers since it took over the reins. However, the AFT faces a cumulative loss of Rs.486.50 crore in spite of its export being Rs.550 crore in the period. The mill registered profit of Rs.40.50 lakh in 1992.

V. Balan, chairman, Anglo French Textiles Limited, said that for the past three years, workers has been demanding that the Union government sanction Rs.500 crore for a revival package. “I really hope the infusion of fresh funds will salvage the crisis,” he said

The company also has on its liability list the payment arrears of statutory benefits to workers from 2010-11. Though it has movable and immovable assets worth Rs.800 crore, the company has run up a negative net worth of Rs.107 crore.

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