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Agra foundry industry gathers steam

Virendra Singh Rawat  |  New Delhi/ Agra 

Ten years after foundries in this city had virtually closed down following a Supreme Court order for preserving Taj Mahal from pollutants, the traditional industry is back on its feet.

The industry has now shifted from polluting coke and fossil fuel-based technology to gas and induction based furnaces complying with the apex court directives.

Although, the current number of 80 odd foundries in Agra pale in comparison with almost 180 in the early 1980s, the existing industry is giving tough competition to China in the international market due to its emphasis on quality.

A foundry unit produces metal castings, which are cast into shape by pouring liquid metal in a mould. Most common metals used to produce castings are aluminum and cast iron.

“The industry has survived and is now growing purely on the entrepreneurial zeal of the promoters, as both the central and state governments had failed to offer any help,” Agra Iron Founders Association secretary Rajesh Goyal told Business Standard.

The major products manufactured in Agra foundry industry include engine pumping sets, machinery parts, automobile parts, grills, cast iron furniture and grills.

Since Agra was the capital of the Mughals, foundries had set up in Agra to manufacture arms and ammunition for the Mughal army. Similar foundry hubs are located in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and Tamil Nadu also.

To protect the monument of love from suspended particulate matter (SPM), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and carbon monoxide (CO), the SC in October 2001 had warned the Agra foundries with closure if they dithered from using clean technology.

The court asked the Uttar Pradesh government to disconnect power supply to the defaulting units, if they failed to comply by December 31, 2001. Earlier in December 1996 also, the SC had ordered that all foundries would be closed by December 31, 1997, if they failed to shift to gas-based fuel.

As a result, several foundries shifted to other industrial enclaves, such as Etah, Ferozabad and Hathras, while others closed shop. “It was a challenging times for the foundry owners, as they knew no other trade to survive. Even, the pertinent government agencies had little knowledge of any other clean technology for the foundries,” Goyal added.

To stay float, the local industry tried to develop indigenous technology of coke-less cupola furnace and gradually built up on the expertise. Now, they use gas or induction furnaces, some of which are highly mechanised and use the best technology.

The local foundries not only cater to the domestic and captive demand, big units export to the Gulf countries, Africa, Egypt, Japan, etc. The industry supports thousands of families direct or indirect employment and plays a major role in promoting the local economy.

The local units are also getting bulk orders from government undertakings and departments, such as Indian Railways, public works department, irrigation, Directorate General of Supplies and Disposals (DGSDP), which had earlier dried up in the backdrop of the SC observation.

According to an estimate, each foundry on an average produces goods weighing 2,400 tonnes per annum, while the cost of production is pegged at almost Rs 50/kg. This puts the local foundry industry at Rs 1,000 crore.

Indu Engineering managing director Pramod Agarwal said, “The future of foundry industry is bright, today India is placed second in foundry production globally. The developed countries are slowly phasing out such industry due to environmental concerns and sourcing casting products from developing nations.” His company is a major exporter and a supplier to several tractor companies, including Tafe, Escorts, New Holland etc.

Prakash Group managing director Pramod Garg lamented that the biggest challenge facing the industry is the shortage of labour and supervisory staff. “The labour costs have shot up, especially after the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme was launched. The second generation of labour hand is not getting trained, as new people are not keen to join this industry.”

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First Published: Sat, September 10 2011. 00:32 IST