To Muzaffarnagar’s ailing industry, violence and then curfew has meant that two of its main industries, paper and iron and steel, have run up losses that industry sources estimate at Rs 100 crore a day. Sugar, the third industry, is shut for the season.
Besides, the events of the past week have meant that the workforce will never be the same again. “Around 20,000 people work in the mills and furnaces and they all come from villages. Since the clashes, no villager has dared travel to the city,” said a steel mill’s supervisor.
Irfan Malik, who works at an iron furnace, said in Kandla village, “A majority of the labour force are Muslims. My family had to flee Sanauli village to Kandla.”
Even if they were to gather the courage to leave the places where they have taken shelter, many would be scared to work closely with the other community again. “There is so much anger and fear that we don’t know if the labour situation will improve. What happens if an untoward incident happens when we work in close proximity?” said Vikram Singh, contractor with a sugar mill.
The blow comes at a time when the industry is already at a low. “With increasing electricity and fuel costs, the iron and steel industry has barely turned out a profit,” said Vipul Bhatnagar, central executive committee member of the Indian Industries Association. “Several factories are moving to Uttarakhand because of lower taxes and better subsidies.”
The city has 27 paper mills, 30 furnaces, 30 steel units, and nine sugar mills. The sugar factories when in operation produce 65,000 tonnes a day, a major chunk of the national production. Their seasonal closure has protected them from losses. “But if these sugar mills were operational, there may have been no riots. Villagers would have had too much to do,” Bhatnagar said.