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Pandemic may be last nail in Assam industrial town’s coffin

Jagiroad and its adjoining villages, sealed after three locals tested positive for the coronavirus, could soon become a ghost town

The COVID-19 pandemic could be the last nail in the coffin of an Assam industrial town the British had renamed nine decades ago because of the confusion caused by its similarity to Noakhali in Bangladesh.

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Residents fear Jagiroad, hit by a “business-stealing highway” and death of the industrial units, could soon become a ghost town after three locals out of 16 in Assam tested COVID-19 positive, forcing the local authorities to seal the town and adjoining villages.

Popular pitstop

Jagiroad, about 60 km east of Guwahati, grew into an industrial centre after the public-sector Assam Spun Silk Mill was set up in 1962. A cooperative jute mill, a polyester spinning mill and a cooperative sugar mill followed before Hindustan Paper Corporation’s Nagaon Paper Mill became the town’s marquee plant in 1985.

The industrial clout made Jagiroad a popular pitstop for travellers between Guwahati and Kaziranga National Park and beyond in the northeast. Rows of restaurants and dhabas along National Highway 37 barely managed to cater to the demand.

The scenario began changing as the industrial units closed one after the other because of poor management, issues of raw material sourcing, and marketing. The transformation of the highway into a four-lane expressway enabling high-speed travel to next destination Nagaon made many eateries close shop.

“Jagiroad derived its name from Jagi village about 9 km away, where the first school of Morigaon district was established in 1933. But the place used to be called Naukhola until the British rulers changed the name to Jagiroad in the 1930s because of confusion,” said Tarun Talukdar, a cultural activist and retired principal of the Jagi Higher Secondary College.

Also read | 328 new COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths reported since Wednesday: Health ministry

The British, he added, were forced to rename the place as cargo destined for Noakhali, now in Bangladesh, would at times reach Naukhola, and vice versa.

Dried fish hub

Jagiroad had earned the tag of northeast’s dried fish hub before the industries came. Munin Borthakur, who set up the first wholesale dried fish business in the mid-1950s, said long-term shutdowns, including those during the Assam Agitation of 1979-1985, hardly impacted the market.

“We understand this lockdown is to keep the deadly virus from infecting us. But it has already come closer home, and getting over the stigma would take a long time for traders, many of whose backbones had already been broken by the dipping commercial graph of the town,” Mr. Borthakur told The Hindu.

Restaurateur Rajesh Jain, one of the very few who has managed to buck the trend, has a similar foreboding. “Two flyovers on the expressway through the town did shave off some business but overcoming the impact of the fear because of the pandemic will be a long haul,” he said.

‘Not much difference’

For some 600 people living in the quarters of the Nagaon Paper Mill, shut down since March 2017, the lockdown has not made much of a difference.

“We have been in a lockdown-like situation without pay for three years. About 50% of the quarters are occupied by employees and their dependants with nowhere to go in Jagiroad, almost a ghost town,” said Santanu Nath, a senior manager of the paper mill.

The Morigaon district administration has taken over the mill’s hospital for testing and treating people who have tested positive, or are potentially at risk of testing positive.

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Printable version | May 30, 2020 6:19:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/pandemic-may-be-last-nail-in-assam-industrial-towns-coffin/article31239147.ece

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