Mechanised units spark small manufacturers' fears

VIRUDHUNAGAR, MARCH 3. The All-India Federation of Cottage Matches Manufacturers' Association has expressed apprehension that over 9000 cottage and small units in the State will face threat of closure owing to an "unhealthy" marketing practice adopted by a largescale unit, which is "stealthily promoting" mechanised match units.

Talking to The Hindu here, the federation general secretary, S. Palanikumar, said the Union Government and the State Government were yet to ban the mechanised units, which were operating at various places, including Virudhunagar, Vellore and Tuticorin districts.

"There was only one mechanised unit in Virudhunagar, when we represented to the Government in 1997. But lack of stern action resulted in mushrooming of such units, and 45 units are now functioning in Virudhunagar, Tuticorin and Vellore districts," Mr. Palanikumar said.

Quoting a letter written by the then Minister of State for Small Scale Industries, Vasundhara Raje, in July 2001, Mr. Palanikumar said the match industry was reserved under the small-scale sector. The Minister, in her letter to the then Sivakasi MP, Vaiko, said, "There has been no change in the policy of reservation for matches in the small-scale sector and no licences or permission have been issued in the recent past for setting up of mechanised units."

She said her Ministry had written to the "State Government for initiating necessary action in consultation with the Central Excise authorities." However, till now those units were allowed to function, Mr. Palanikumar said.

The labour-intensive match industry had been reserved under the SSI, since it provided employment opportunities to around 10 lakh people in the country.

Alleging that the mechanised units were "posing a threat to the safety of the workers," he said a portion of the imported and fully-mechanised machinery was dismantled, so that operators could claim that there were using only semi-mechanised units.

He also alleged that three fatal accidents in as many units that took place in the last two years were only owing to "dismantling of the machinery."

Besides, the Kolkata-based company, which was using these mechanised units to promote its own brand of matches, was now planning to set up more units in the northern States, to cut down the transport cost.

"After putting the hand-made match units on the verge of death by its cut-throat trade practices, it is now trying to ditch the mechanised units too," he said.

Stating that the marketing facility of the tiny match units was limited, he alleged that the Kolkata company, which had a strong nation-wide marketing network, was pushing its brand of matches along with its popular brand of cigarettes.

The employment of lakhs of workers would be jeopardised owing to the "lackadaisical attitude" of the State and Central Governments which "allowed the mechanised units to go scot-free", he added.