The room is a palette of gloom, the furnace throwing an orange glow on the soot covered walls and greenish, yellow hot metal being poured into a cast by two artisans painstakingly crafting brass lamps.
Outside, the sun shines bright and hot and the din of campaigning ahead of elections on April 23 in this western Uttar Pradesh constituency rises in crescendo.
But Imran and Mohammed Fazal continue to focus on the job at hand in the airless room, a rickety table fan, which is also pumping air in the furnace, their only relief from the stifling heat.
It’s an 11-hour work day but there is little choice.
With GST, demonetisation and the rising cost of raw material pushing Moradabad’s famed Rs 7,000 crore brass industry into crisis, jobs are scarce and the two don’t want to take a chance.
An estimated 10 lakh people are dependent on the industry, a valuable pocket of votes for political parties.
Imran, who breaks into an old Mohammed Rafi song, as he carefully pours liquid metal into moulds, uses an app, Star Maker, to fine tune his singing skills and Facebook and WhatsApp to remain connected with developments in the country.
“My father used to do it, now I do it. After GST, the cost of raw material like coal and sand has shot up. After deducting costs, we get just Rs 300 a day as against Rs 500 before GST and demonetisation,”he said.
November 8, 2016, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation of high value currency notes, was a turning point for the brass industry of Peetal Nagari, as Moradabad is often known, say industry insiders.
And their vote will depend on which candidate offers them a turnaround back to better times, they say.
According to Rahat Ali Ansari, who runs several small units in Moradabad, demand dipped by almost 50 per cent after demonetisation, leaving thousands of artisans unemployed. Many picked up alternative livelihoods like driving e-rickshaws food stalls, became vegetable vendors or migrated to other locations like Kerala and Odisha.
Officials estimate that over Rs 7,000 crore worth of brass items are produced in Moradabad. However, there is no study to give an authentic figure of a dip in the industry in recent years.
The brass industry is primarily an unorganised sector dependent on exporters, karkhanedars (people who bring the work from exporter) and artisans who run their small specialised factories.
“For example, if an exporter wants 2,000 pieces of a particular design, he will call the karkhanedar who will assess the design element. After deciding on it, the person will allocate work to different artisans based on their specialties,” explained Syed Ganim Miyan of the Fair Trade Primary Producers Association.
From designing to sand casting to carving and polishing, brass art passes through 15-20 different artisans who work in small, closed factories in the narrow bylanes of Moradabad.
Each one brings a specialisation to the brass item, from the lamps, or deepams’, of Kerala to ashtrays and more, he added.
The industry, which has about 10 lakh people dependent on it, including those providing ancillary services, is cash intensive as artisans are paid in cash on the basis of number of pieces finished by them, Ganim said.
Demonetisation, say experts, was a huge blow to the industry which was still trying to come to terms with global recession started in 2008.
Machines lie unused in many factories.
“We have a capacity of six people but as you can see only two of us are working. The rising cost of raw material and drop in demand leaves very little margin,” said Javed, a worker in one unit.
He added most artisans have left the trade and there is no one to work the machines.
“Whatever was left was hit hard by GST. Although businessmen below Rs 40 lakh of income are exempted, the government asks traders to get registered and obtain a GST number. Once the number is obtained, the person is supposed to file regular returns or else face a penalty,” Nauman Mansoori, president of the Handicraft Development Society, told PTI.
He said most artisans are barely literate, leaving them dependent on professionals to file returns. The charge is anywhere between Rs 2,000-5,000 and most artisans avoid taking a GST number.
Ask how the community of brass workers and traders will vote on April 23 and there is no one answer.
Ganim and Ansari proudly show on YouTube a video of Congress president Rahul Gandhi who held an interaction with artisans of Moradabad in 2014.
“We are looking at central figures–Rahul and (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi. We are evaluating the pros and cons of having either one as next leader of this country. We interacted with Rahul and he understood our problems, so he remains a favourite but the community is yet to make its mind,” Ansari said.
S T Hasan, a former mayor and local doctor who is contesting on an SP- BSP-RLD alliance ticket and was a runner up in the 2014 election, has an advantage as he is a local, say some townspeople. But it has to be ascertained if he is effective at the national level, they add.
Hasan is challenging sitting BJP MP Kunwar Sarvesh Kumar who is pinning hopes on the division of Muslim votes. Muslims comprise about about 47 per cent of the electorate in the constituency. Also in the running is Congress’ Imran Pratapgarhi, a young fiery poet whose poems on missing JNU student Najeeb, lynchings and madrassas, have popularised him on social media.
Source- Business Standard.