‘Aligarh’ has been synonymous with locks since the Mughal era but now its struggling lock industry which employs over one lakh people is facing grim prospects, with demonetisation adding to its woes.
The legendary lock industry in Aligarh, which is less than 150 km from national capital Delhi, accounts for almost 75 per cent of the production in the country, earning this city the name of “Tala Nagri” and making “Aligarh lock” not only a distinct brand but a byword for quality.
“90 per cent small and cottage scale units, including unregistered ones, have either closed down or are on the brink of closure,” said SP MLA Zafar Alam, who is former president of the now-defunct All India Lock Manufactures Association.
“There are about one lakh persons in this city who are actively involved in the functioning of this cash driven trade and one shivers to think as to what would be the situation when these jobless people roam around aimlessly,” he said.
According to the General Secretary of Tala Nagri Industrial Development Association, Sunil Dutta, “Banks are in no position to provide cash for keeping this industry on its feet and the transition of a cash driven economy into a plastic money economy cannot be done in such a short time.”
Cherat Industrial Area Vikas Association General Secretary Meer Arif Ali said, “We do not know what will be the long term effects of demonetisation, but the present situation is disastrous and production in more than 80 per cent units is at a standstill because of extreme cash crunch.”
Earning more than Rs 210 crore each year from export of locks and other brass hardware, the lock industry forms the economic foundation of this city through the operation of over 6,000 cottage and mid-scale lock units.
But lately, with the entry of cheap locks manufactured in east Asian countries like China, Taiwan and Korea and more than a two-fold increase in metal prices, the industry has been facing a slump. When the Chinese locks started flooding the market decades ago, traditional lock manufacturers in Aligarh were hit hard.
Unable to face competition, smaller lock manufactures were forced to shut shop, while locksmiths with bigger scale of operation started using latest technology to come out of the crisis.
The lock manufacturers of Aligarh have also been demanding development of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for them in the town but despite the project being theoretically approved by the Union Commerce Ministry, it has hardly made any headway.
The ministry has blamed the Uttar Pradesh government for delaying land marking and acquisition process. There are several branded and locally famous locks available in Aligarh, where manufacture and export of locks is a major commercial and industrial activity.
The city is making locks since the Mughal period. It was initially an unorganised industry, but when the British came, they streamlined it into a major economic activity.