Ashwani Gupta: People have shifted to online study of newspapers, magazines and books

By 23 Dec 2020

Ashwani Gupta, vice-president (north zone) of AIFMP and general secretary of Jalandhar Printers' Association says major changes are going to transpire due to Covid

Gupta: Suppliers in our industry are very co-operative

What is the name of your press?
Choice Books & Printers.

What happened when the PM announced the lockdown?
It was expected and but not with immediate effect.

Did you shut down your factory?                                           
A complete shutdown was observed.

How did you inform your staff?
We deployed the telephone. We requested the respective heads of the departments that everyone had to stay home and stay safe.

And what did you inform them?
That we will inform them as and when the situation comes to normal and as per guidelines issued by the government.

Anyone who was Covid Positive ...?
No one close to me tested positive. But unfortunately, one printer lost his life and two lost their relatives. Quite tragic.

When did you start printing again?               
On 21 June 2020 after a meeting with the GM, DIC and deputy commissioner (DC) Jalandhar in the office of the DC. 

What did you print?
We print textbooks for various state government and private publishers, duplex boards for the packing industry.

How much of your capacity are you utilising now?
Only 15 to 20%.

What is happening to the print industry in Jalandhar?
Jalandhar’sprinters depend on textbook printing. Due to the closure of the schools and colleges, our city printers are very badly affected.

How so?
In North India, after Delhi, Jalandhar is the hub for textbook printing. Punjab is a border state and it is far from the seaports. Due to these reasons, no heavy industry is situated in the state of Punjab. The major textile and hosiery industry is present in Ludhiana and so there are a few packaging houses. But Jalandhar depends on the printing of textbooks, plus commercial jobs related to schools and colleges, and a few industrial packaging jobs of smaller volumes etc. 

Any supplier or trader who has been huge support?
Suppliers in our industry are very co-operative. They never pressurise anyone without any cause or fault.

What made you smile in these tough times?
I think this was a golden time - and I spent this period with my family at home. I enjoyed the company of my family. This time spent with the family will never return in my life, I think so.

Your worst moment?
The worst moment faced was the first day of resuming our print production. At the time of imposition of lockdown on 23 March, we were undertaking special jobs for the Punjab School Education Board and Rajasthan State Textbook Board. We were under the contract with the state government to supply the books in a specific time frame.

What happened?
Well, when we resumed our production and called our workers to the press, some of them did not join and some of them left in a period of four to five days due to the free train service started by the government to their native places. One truck fully loaded with 25 tonnes of books was dispatched to Rajasthan on 21 March. But it failed to reach the destination before lockdown. The truck owner unloaded the books on the way without informing us. Later, with the help of a police complaint, we succeeded to retrieve that supply of books on 30 June. But the whole project was most stressful.

Where does your press stand now?
We are facing a huge financial crisis.

Why?
The government departments are not making the payments of the supplies even after six months of completion of the work. We are at 15-20% capacity utilisation. 

Biggest disaster in this period according to you?
All of us are facing the disaster due to Covid. On the other hand, we can't expect much from the government but I will treat it as a disaster for a industry when any relief announced by the government of India is with specific conditions and not uniform.

Meaning?
For example, the case for relief for the payment of ESIC to the workers and a moratorium of interest.

Please elucidate …
As far as ESIC is concerned, it was announced that it will be available to the workers of the establishments who are having workers less than a hundred. Well, out of these hundred workers, 90% must be getting wages below Rs 15,000 per month. Under these circumstances, only 3% units on a pan-India basis get the benefit. The government of India has accumulated huge funds, in lakhs-crores of rupees, through the contributions made by the employees and employers under the ESIC. Why is the government of India not utilising that amount at this time of disaster? Why is the government of India not passing on the benefit to all the units or employees covered under ESIC?

But there was moratorium …
Yes. As far moratorium is concerned, the government announced the benefit will be given to the borrowers who had utilised the credit line up to Rs 2-crore only. It should not be limited to Rs 2 crores if the government really wishes to pass on any benefit to our industry. 

Valid point. Any other impact?
Another disaster for the print industry is that due to the Covid, people in India have now shifted to online (reading newspaper, magazines and books). Earlier mobile phones were not allowed in schools and colleges and now schools are operating virtual classrooms on mobile phones. 

How do we overcome this disaster?
We expect the government of India to offer credit line on a very low rate of interest from the banks to expand or survive. Plus the waiver of unnecessary imposition conditions relating to eligibility criteria for bidding, EMD, performance securities, fast payments, local tenders within India for procurement from government departments throughout India.

Today on hindsight, what advice would you give to yourself in March?
Due to the Covid, major changes are going to transpire. I am of the view that we must accept these changes. We should concentrate on the new areas in which we can prosper. I am planning to shift my business from textbook printing to packaging from the new financial year.

How will you do this?
With proper planning and keeping our resources intact for the future. A future which is very fluid. 

Your wish for 2021 …?
I wish and pray that the Covid phase is over as early as possible. I hope we have safer times ahead and a prosperous 12 months. Meanwhile, we must follow the SOPs issued by the government of India - and keep ourselves safe.

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