Despite NITI Aayog’s recent report on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) highlighting Assam’s poor show on economic growth, the state is yet to wake up and march on the road to industrialization.
Assam, since independence, miserably failed to woo heavy industries because of geographic and infrastructural disadvantages. It is unfortunate that the state miserably failed to keep some of its thriving industrial units alive.
The tea industry in Assam is in bad shape, all the three paper mills are closed, and the famous jute mill at Silghat in Nagaon district is also gasping for breath.
But, it is most unfortunate that the Assam government could not convince the management of ITC Ltd to revive the famous match factory at Dhubri.
Dhubri’s match factory was set up in 1925 by a prestigious Swedish organization.
The manufacturing plant was set up at Dhubri as it had the necessary raw materials for the then wood-based venture.
The Swedish organization procured 132 bighas of land to set up the match production line and brought the initial cluster of labourers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
As time passed by, the venture flourished and turned into the best match processing plant in the country.
It was then known as Assam Match Company (AMCO).
This factory was thriving and recognised as the prized unit among the chain of five match factories from the same company in the country as the other factories of the company based in Mumbai, Chennai, Bareilly and Kolkata were facing losses.
This Swedish company turned Dhubri into a famous place on the industrial map of the country. It was also the first industry of Assam which celebrated Labour Day in 1935.
In 1979, the Zathia Group of Industries occupied the match factory. A large number of local people were hired and the workers’ strength increased to 3,000 from the initial strength of 1,700. The new proprietors renamed the match plant as the Dhubri unit of the Western India Match Company (WIMCO). At that time, it registered an annual income of Rs 1.5 crore.
The first downfall was witnessed in 1988 when the management reduced the number of workforce on the ground of introducing new machinery which resulted in a tussle between the management and the workers of the factory.
Again after 1993, the number of workers was further reduced due to the mismanagement as the company started to shift the machinery to other locations decreasing the production.
After the Supreme Court verdict of 1997 which totally banned cutting of forest trees, the factory management had to shut down the factory completely in 1997.
In 2001, the ITC business group bought the match factory from the Zathia Group of Industries.
Till then, the people of Dhubri had high hopes that the business giant ITC would open some other industries on the campus. But 20 years have passed by now and sadly, any new industrial activity is yet to be seen.
A team of 21 members has been hired by the ITC group to take care of the 132 bighas of industrial land.
Johirul Islam, a caretaker says, “After its closure when ITC took over it we have been taking care of this land. Most of the heavy machines have been shifted but still there are many left and are lying in bad condition. We have no information as of now about the company’s future plans.”
Inside the factory premises, many buildings were constructed for the purposes of storage, production, packaging along with quarters for the workers working in the factory where more than 1500 labourers along with their families lived together. The quarters are now hardly in their original shape and lying vacant completely.
The factory was equipped with the best machinery. The factory also had a weighbridge to check the weight of the finished products being transported.
Rashidul, an employee of the match factory, has seen all of it, starting from the factory working in its full swing to the complete closure of it.
He says, “During the time when I joined the company in the woods department, I was working along with 2,000 other employees and around 100 officers of top-level management also used to stay inside the factory in their respective bungalows.”
According to him, the main reason behind the closure of the factory was the tussle between the management and the militants as the militants regularly disturbed them for donations and also used to threaten them that if they don’t fulfil their demand they would set the factory on fire.
He further stated, “I remained unemployed after the factory’s closure for some time and faced many financial problems as my family was completely dependent on me and I had no other option but to leve it and I started farming.”
Rashidul like many other people of Dhubr believes that Dhubri would have developed a lot by now if the factory was not shut down or if any other such kind of industries would have been established.
Recently, a delegation from Dhubri, led by Dipankar Mazumdar, a social activist, submitted a memorandum to State Innovative and Transformation Aayog (SITA) co- vice-chairman Raman Deka with a demand to open industry in the WIMCO’s site.
In the memorandum, it was stated that the ITC group had done nothing since it took over the factory. The delegation in the memorandum stated that by adopting Public Private Partnership (PPP) model, many other industries such as jute industry, biscuit industry, mineral water bottling plants and many others could be opened in the match factory site as it is feasible for the same.
While talking to Northeast Now, Raman Deka, who took charge as the co vice-chairman recently, said, “I have no idea if the earlier SITA authorities took any decision regarding the matter of any initiative taken in the WIMCO site.”
(Report filed by Himanshu Jain)