KOLLAM: Kerala is not known for its exceptional successes in the manufacturing industry. Worse, many units that once dotted the state’s sparse industrial landscape have either vanished or are languishing. Alind, headquartered at Kundara in Kollam district, once an iconic brand of Kerala manufacturing aluminium products, is now making a difference to this scene of desperation with a state-engineered revival after a gap of 20 years. Set up by the Seshasayee group back in 1956, the company had a successful run for about 30 years during which it expanded its operations by opening two more units in Kerala (Mannar and Vilappilsala), Hirakud in Odisha, and in Hyderabad, and employed up to 2,000 people. It made regular profits in its early years and paid hefty bonuses to its employees. Thanks to several reasons including economic recession, Alind slipped into the red and was declared sick in 1987. It was then referred to the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR). Its Kundara unit was closed while others managed to float.
After several failed attempts, the company, backed by a determined state government, is now looking up to a better future. The government has practically handheld the company for a return, given that Kundara, its birthplace, is the constituency of J. Mecykutty Amma, the minister for fisheries in the government. It has liberally considered the demands raised by the operator, the Somany group, including a one-time settlement of old electricity bills, renewal of factory license and licenses from local bodies, renewal of land lease agreement, and provision to supply the products to the Kerala State Electricity Board Limited (KSEBL) for the reopening of the factory. The government has also ensured that several long-pending demands of its employees are met when it is reopened. In its second coming, Alind Kundara will produce auxiliary transformers and traction conductors for the Indian Railways. In the next phase of expansion, Alind will be producing steel and pre-stressed concrete wires.
The new building. (Photo: K.Suresh Kumar)
“The factory used to produce aluminium conductors with varying specifications according to the demands of its customers,” R. Sreekumar, divisional chief executive, Alind Kundara, told DC. “Unfortunately, the company has an empty order book now and we need to participate in tenders to acquire them. We will have to fight a tough battle to get back into the business as we have no history of supplies in the last 20 years. We have to brave these odds in its new life.” The company authorities have held talks with Kerala State Electricity Board Limited and have received assurance to qualify it to participate in L1 tenders, which will be a relief in the initial phase. The factory in Kundara will be active in producing control mechanisms for substations used in Kochi Metro rail in the first phase. “We are already producing BLR mechanism for these substations in the Mannar plant,” Mr Sreekumar said. “We produce part assemblies in Kundara to aid the production at Mannar. Subsequently, the entire product will be manufactured in Kundara. This will help us double the production.”
The company has spent Rs 1.5 crore on maintanmece in the last two years. “We will take at least two years for breakeven,” Mr Sreekumar said. “We expect the government to help us with orders from KSEBL for aluminium conductors, which will be produced at our Kundara factory. Our employees are well-versed with the technology for producing conductors, and we can go ahead with production in Kundara.” The KSEBL has already slapped a bill amount of Rs 1.5 crore including the pending energy bill along with its interest during the period of closure of the factory. “The actual energy charge is Rs 38 lakh and the rest is billed during the closed period, and we expect the government to waive it. They have agreed to consider our demand considering that we are a sick unit.” The company had 650 employees in the payroll when it was closed in 1998. As per the direction of the BIFR, the management signed an MoU to give all perks including PF and gratuity even for the period of closure along with interest. An amount of Rs 12 crore has already been paid off to the employees including the retirement lump sum at Alind Kundara.
The employees union has demanded changes in the salary pattern mentioned in the MoU signed four years ago. “We are sure that all the employees will cooperate in the revival of the company,” P.M.A. Rehman, administrator and former employee with the factory, told DC. “There is a clause in the MoU which provides for a long-term agreement after nine months of opening.” Mr Rehman was also the convener of the revival committee. The factory currently has 90 employees, who were in the payroll earlier. Over 50 among them have informed their willingness to continue with the factory that has been reopened and be part of a new dawn which they think will visit many other industrial units in the state. A hope the management also shares.
The roller-coaster years
After it downed its shutters in 1987, the Mumbai-based Somany group came in as promoter to revive the company and got the approval in 1989 but it took another eight years for it to make it work. But the revival was short-lived: it was back in the red in a year, and was closed again. As no operator turned up, the Kundara unit of Alind was planned to be sold off at the scrap rate of `2.85 crores. However, a revival committee was formed and the appellate authority AIFR came in to the scene with a comprehensive proposal. The old promoter Somany group was consulted again to revive the company in 2007. In between, the operator bank SBT was withdrawn after the promoters had cleared its dues.
The last LDF government took over the company through an ordinance, but it backed out subsequently. There was little movement during the UDF government whjich ruled the state between 2011 and 2016. The only development was the arrival of IDBI Bank as the operating agency which worked with BIFR and made a new proposal in February 2014. The government which took over last year initiated moves to revive the company. In July 31, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan convened a meeting in the presence of industries minister and the fisheries minister, and it gave nod to open the units. “Once the chief minister gave his approval, all departments joined hands to revive the unit,” Mr Sreekumar said. “We had already started maintenance works two years back after BIFR approval and we should start operation in no time.”