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Kanpur: Decline of an industrial hub

February 14, 2012 12:26 IST

During election season, every party leader worth his salt makes promises of revival, only to again repeat these in the next polls, reports Kavita Chowdhury

The British era clock on the 128-feet clock tower flanking the still majestic, red bricked, Lal Imli textile mill factory may still be ticking, but the spinning machines within its walls have almost fallen silent. The once flourishing textile industry here, once earning the city the 'Manchester of the East' sobriquet, is almost extinct.

The city boasted the country's first Indian Institute of Technology and was a renowned technical and industrial hub. It is now in decline. With little to speak of by way of infrastructure, politicians and political parties have done little to stem the gradual downslide of this city, still the largest in Uttar Pradesh.

Apart from British India Corporation's Lal Imli, which manages to barely keep up five per cent production, the eight other textile mills, including Elgin Mills, Muir Mills and the National Textile Corporation units, have all closed. The city is dotted with not just these empty ghost mills but the defunct power house as well. The closure of the mills rendered tens of thousands unemployed and contributed to the rising crime rate.

B M Tripathi, a leader of the Hind Mazdoor Sabha labour union at Lal Imli says, "This is a wholly owned central public sector unit and since 2002, we have been waiting for the much promised revival package, pending before the (Union) Cabinet after it was cleared by the BIFR (Bureau of Industrial and Financial Reconstruction)." At its peak, the mill was the sole supplier of woollens to the paramilitary and defence forces; it now has little work for the 1,200 workers who still troop in daily.

Like many other units in UP, the mill had fallen prey to trade union troubles but more importantly to the politics between Centre and state. The Congress' Sriprakash Jaiswal (also coal minister) is the Lok Sabha member from here, now in his third term. The regional parties, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party, have been disinclined to revive the mills since it would yield political dividends for the Centre and not them. During election season, every party leader worth his salt makes promises of revival, only to again repeat these in the next polls. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress scion Rahul Gandhi have, for instance on their visits to the city, promised this, too.

Also figuring high on citizens' list of grievances is the absence of basic infrastructure. Long hours of power outages, two to three hours at a stretch, have made life difficult for residents and industry alike. The diesel generator sets needed have added to the already choking pollution. With the exception of the military cantonment zone, roads in the rest of the city are in a pathetic condition, most dug for sewer lines and never repaired since.

Yet, Kanpur is the state's highest taxpaying city, and the number of Porsches and BMWs sold here far outstrip those of many Tier-1 cities. However, the polls in the five assembly constituencies here are being fought on different concerns. With a resurgent Congress under Rahul Gandhi, this election is a test of Cabinet minister Jaiswal's clout in the region. While two out of five seats had gone to the Congress in 2007, the enmity within the party itself, between nominee Ajay Kapoor and Jaiswal in Kidwai Nagar, could benefit the Bharatiya Janata Party. 

Arvind Baghel a worker at Lal Imli, has been observing the different poll promises of the several political parties. He finds the promises of employment generation in the manifestos "a cruel joke."  "They're promising people jobs and here we have been waiting for over a decade for the mill revival," he observes.

Kavita Chowdhury in Kanpur