Government curb threatens flex printers’ survival

The Kerala government has decided not to ban flex totally, but to enforce strict rules against the spread of illegal flexes. Even the flex printers agree that unrestricted use of flex has to be curbed. But it’s a fact that, in effect, the restrictions have hit the flex printers, especially the small operators.

15 Jan 2015 | By PrintWeek India

Flex is ubiquitous in Kerala. In any nook and corner of the state one will see flexs of ministers, politicians, religious leaders, godmen and the local heroes. These flexs are also seasonal. During the World Cup, a flex war had sparked among the locals in villages and towns, with huge flexes of fans’ favourite teams installed on the roadside. Whenever the SSC and HSC results are announced, flexs of students who have scored the highest marks are dispalyed; you will also see flexs publicising the festivals at temples or churches; and then there are the cinema publicity flexs.

Though the extensive use of flexs may be a nuisance for many, the industry provides a living to more than 1,00,000 people; directly and indirectly, in the state, says Narayanan Mohan, the State General Secretary of Signage Printing Industry Association (SPIA). “There are about 1,000 large, medium and small flex print entrepreneurs in Kerala. Out of that, less than 10% entrepreneurs are big-timers, who are based out of the main cities. Many of the flex units are one-man enterprises, where the owner himself produces the flex in a make-shift factory in one of the rooms at his home.

Others employ three or four people. Thus the flex industry provides employment to more than 1,00,000 people in the related field of flex frame-making, flex installation and unskilled labourers,” says Narayanan.

“So, imposing a complete ban on flex is denying the right to live for tens of thousands,” says Gerard T Chandy (Jerry), owner of Jerry’s Colorzone, a prominent flex printer in Ernakulam and KMPA’s chairman - website management. “Large-scale flex printers have invested crores of rupees in expanding their business. How can they afford a complete ban on flex? And for small- scale flex printers, it’s their livelihood. Yes, the existing laws have to be enforced against the illegal flexes that come up like mushrooms in Kerala.

For that, local bodies like corporations, municipalities and panchayats must take the action. Whoever installs a flex must get permission from the authority concerned, pay the tax for placing a flex and must show the particulars of the party who is installing the flex. If these rules are enforced, we can control the misuse of flex,” says Chandy.

“The recent government crackdown on flex has hit our business,” says Narayanan. “The business volume has come down by 30%, because the flex buyers have a fear of installing flexs legally for genuine causes. The reason is that there is no clarity on the government stand. The authorities must clearly state what is legal and what is not; they should tell the people clearly that flex is not banned, but abiding by the rules and regulations, flexs can be installed. It is for the authorities to see the law is enforced,” Narayanan says.

“In any case, we know very well that our businesses will be affected. The curbs will cut down at least 50% of our business, eventually resulting in shutting down of 50% of flex units. We have no option, but have to live with that,” says Narayanan.

Another fact the flex printers are crying foul is the propaganda that flex is hazardous. “The recent media reports say flex is not eco-friendly. In that case, all poly vinyl chloride (commonly called as PVC) products are more hazardous than flex and the usage share of flex is less than 2% among all the PVC products.

In flex, only 10% is PVC, rest is other substances, which are degradable,” explains Gerard. “The government has agreed to exclude flex from the non-eco-friendly category after SPIA’s constant plea to do so,” says Narayanan. “But the recent media hype about flex ban has made an impression among the public that flex is something that has to be banned completely. Of course the government has assured SPIA that it will not impose a complete ban on flex, but the industry will suffer when stringent curbs are implemented. But a rule is a rule and we have to abide by that.”

Narayanan is eager to highlight certain facts about flex as a medium of publicity. “I will say it is the cheapest medium for publicity. It catches the attention of people. Especially for smalltime advertisers, say a textile shop in a small town like Vaikom, can’t afford to advertise in TV or newspapers. The best way for them to advertise is by placing flex hoardings at nearby areas. So, please don’t look down upon the flex, it is the medium for the small scale industries to advertise as it is the cheapest medium for publicity. Government has to see that this industry.

(Grateful acknowledgement to KMPA's bi-monthly magazine PRINT MIRACLE where the above feature originally appeared)