Kerala floods: A nightmare for print - The Noel D'Cunha Sunday Column

The live telecast from 16 to 20 August were horrifying, and remain etched in our minds. After the floods receded, there was relief. But not for long. The post-mortem of the Kerala floods have been brutal. The images from two of the prominent print firms in Ernakulam showed how the machines were submerged on the factory floor.

The Sunday Column looks at the damage from flood-hit Kerala

25 Aug 2018 | By Noel D'Cunha

The news from Kerala is grim.

A printer who called me (requesting not to disclose his identity) said, "Kerala had a century's rain in 72 hours plus the dams were opened. This sort of calamity happens once every hundred years. Cleaning up and repairs are going to be really tough."

R Gopakumar, president, KMPA, said, "As the flood waters have slowly started to recede, the magnitude of the disaster is unfolding in front of our eyes. The KMPA committee has personally seen printing units completely or partially submerged with their owners and employees homeless. For most of such brother printers, their life’s work and earnings have been destroyed in a few moments of nature’s fury. A large number of them are in relief camps without access to even basic necessities. Without our generous support, most of our fellow printers will not be able to come back to life at all."

The KMPA team has been visiting the industrial print areas in Kerala. Their assessment about the damage to the state's print and packaging units is Rs 100 cr. The KMPA says, rehabilitation work will be daunting. There’s massive threat of air- and water-borne diseases.

Hundreds of print firms affected
Meanwhile, the information trickling in is heart-wrenching. Some of the notable firms are Sterling Print House in Ernakulam; InDot in its entire five centres across Kerala especially Chalakudy; Nirmala Offset in Chalakudy; SN Offset in Alwaye; the newspaper printer Cochin Printech in Ernakulam.

From the initial assessment, approximately ten print firms with four-colour sheetfed offset press or a web offset press, have been impacted plus more than seventy firms that possess a mini offset. In addition, the floods and its aftermath have affected process houses in Kerala and caused the displacement of workers whose homes have been destroyed.

While there are plenty of practical steps you can take to help protect your business from natural disasters, at the end of the day, all you can do is minimise the risk or put plans in place to mitigate the impact after the fact. Because, as recent events in Kerala have proven, unless you possess Moses-like powers to hold back the floodwaters around your factory there’s not a lot you can do.

CEOs of major firms are looking at the business insurance plan; plus informing customers and staff members. A KMPA member mentioned, "We are keeping customers and other stakeholders informed as the business gets back on track. Also, we are helping out to spread the word about any support service."

Lessons from the Mumbai floods
There are some lessons from the Mumbai floods in 2005 which can be studied. It may help in taking steps on how to prevent a disaster later.

For example, post-floods in Mumbai many firms realised "the true worth of the shopfloor staff”. Every worker pitched in. Today some of those workers are star employees and future managers of the business.

The Mumbai floods was a good indicator of how more than 50% of small businesses and the self-employed do not have a plan in place to cope with potential disruption risks to their business operations or their supply chains.

In all this, P Sajith of Welbound Worldwide has a word of caution, "Many a time it is not just the flood and water that destroys machines and lead to accidents. It is our anxiety to start up and complete indifference to safety procedures that need to be followed."

He says, "The more time you spend in inspecting, cleaning and drying the machine and starting up will help you reduce the damages. That can be very expensive and lead to a huge loss of productive hours."

In this sense, Welbound Technical Service has agreed to support the printers of Kerala affected by the flood, to help put back the machines into working conditions where ever the original equipment suppliers’ support is not forthcoming. Sajith says, "They will work with the printer's maintenance team, operators and local engineers and guide them through the process. Both Arvind Kalasur and Baban Khot have experience in bringing the machines back to life from such conditions."

This is a good step.

TechNova's S Swarnangka says his company’s outreach effort is its silent crusade. He says, "The TechNova Imaging Systems has been visiting all the major flood affected customers and working together to bring them back to a normal working condition."

Swarnangka explains, "Our team is suggesting simple tips to firms. As everyone knows, the electricity supply is a crucial part of any business to keep the workplace safe in the event of a flood. We feel it is essential to raise fuse boxes, electrical plug points and wires at a height of 1.5 metres or further up above the floor level. Valuable electronic items are best stocked away safely on higher shelves when not in use."

He adds, Sometimes a simple wooden pallet can help "protect the paper". He states, "We are distributing these pallets to affected customers."

Safety above all
A simple PrintWeek India tip is safety.

Your first priority is safety; avoid re-entering your premises until you are sure they are safe from contaminated water, structural damage and faulty mains electricity. Photograph flood damage to the building and equipment and check with your insurer before salvaging goods and repairing the damage – they may recommend tradespeople.

P Sajith of Welbound Worldwide, says, “I think more help will be needed in rebuilding lives of many of them who have lost everything. It depends if the government does a fair and efficient job in distributing the funds for rehabilitation. If there are issues, we will seek the help of the print community across India. As of now, basic things like food, medicines, diesel, etc are needed which a lot of agencies are organising.” He adds, “The real impact will be after some time and by then the media and the world would have lost interest in this issue. That's when we can do something. I am really grateful and proud of the print community for responding like this.”

Companies like Welbound, APL and Komori are among the first to provide assistance to the Kerala printers. Welbound has assured to offer free maintenance service; APL will be providing with the replacement of machines that have been affected by the floods, while Komori India has set up a call centre for the aid of its customers. CP Paul of APL Machinery said, “We humbly announce free service and reinstallations of the machines in Kerala which have been affected by the floods. We have more than 200 machines running in the state. This is our small effort to help the print fraternity."

Komori India’s deputy managing director Sangam Khanna, informs “The call centre will be operational from Monday, the 27 of August next week. The call will be picked up during 9am to 6pm. Please do not hesitate to contact us.”

Komori India has a direct presence in India.

Onam celebrations in Kerala are round the corner. But this year, the celebrations will be muted.

For one, everyone is in rehab and repair mode. Two, there is a huge shortage of workers. Most of them are busy rebuilding their homes - and lives.

KMPA's appeal: to put it all back, together

The Executive committee members of KMPA have completed the first round visit to our fellow members' whose businesses are affected by the floods. As you can very well guess, it was a shocking experience to see printing shop floors full of water and dirt, machines wet and dirty, with a huge stock of raw materials and finished goods completely destroyed. In a couple of instances, we felt choked up and eyes blurred with tears as we struggled to comfort friends of decades who has just lost pretty much everything that matters. We pray to God almighty that none of our printer brothers suffer a similar plight in future.

Another dimension to the crisis is the plight of the employees whose houses are damaged, some beyond repair, with the onus now resting on the employer to help them rebuild. The task ahead of our printer brothers is of herculean proportions. In order to bring them back to their feet as soon as possible, we need to assure them of our unstinting support. 

Kerala Master Printers Association has always been in the front line to lend a helping hand on such occasions. As our parent body, we urge All India Federation of Master Printers to urgently consider this as a request from KMPA to contribute generously towards the relief efforts. We also appeal to AIFMP to forward this letter of appeal to all affiliate Associations and request them also to join us in our efforts to bring our brothers back to their feet. As fellow printers, we appeal to you to send in your generous donations towards this rebuilding process.

Please send in your generous contribution to: 

Account Name: Kerala Master Printers Association 
Bank: State Bank of India 
Branch: Kaloor, Kochi 
Account No: 30477931783 
IFSC Code: SBIN0008621 

TechNova helpline - +91 96000 72489 (Ram Kumar), +91 98473 42011 (Binu Punnen)

Komori India Call Centre - +91 9599068152 (Ms Heena)