Save HMT – Timekeeper of the nation, shut A-I – shame of the country


By Shivaji Sarkar

It seems the government is settling down to do business. Hiving off nine loss-making public sector units is apparently a good decision. There is a surprise that largest loss-maker Air India (A-I) is not in the list.

It is also a nostalgic loss to see the HMT Watches – the timekeeper of the nation – that brought pride to “made in India” also slated for closure.

But while deciding on those issues, we also need to be sensitive to the heritage. Everything old is not gold but it also need not be junk. At least, the decision on HMT Watches calls for a review. The HMT Watches are remembrance of an era that brought pride to this country.

The nation and prime minister Narendra Modi is trying to reestablish the same ethos with “make in India” campaign. The HMT Watches started functioning in 1961 with collaboration of Citizen Watch Company of Japan. Is not it the beginning of “make in India”?

The HMT Watches need to be not only preserved but also be allowed to be made functional particularly its manufacturing hand-wound and automatic watches, now a craze in the US and the West. Would it not cost in monetary terms? It may or may not but preserving such heritage units gives impetus. Even in terms of a sum it would not cost more than Rs 700 crore, for one time, against pumping in about Rs 5000 crore a year for the endless sinking pit of Air India.

We need to learn from Europe. The continent has preserved many factories that were the harbingers of industrial revolution more than three centuries back. It is part of industrial archaeology. Cities like Kanpur and Ahmedabad have many palatial textile units, which can be part of that industrial heritage.

The oldest salt farm in Ston in Croatia, functioning since early 14th century, still harvests sea salt and sells it as souvenir. It is expensive to produce salt in the traditional way. But the society has maintained it for its pride. In cooperation with the organization “Eco heritage task force” Ston invites young people from the US, South America, the Netherlands and other regions to the salt farm Ston. During the “Gathering Salt Summer Camp” they learn about the oldest salt farm in Europe and participate in additional educational programs including learning Croatian. It is the largest salt works in the Mediterranean and processing the same way. It has admission ticket of $ 1.76.

That is wonderful. Cannot this ancient civilization of India also take pride in the recent past? It should. The governments fail but the governments are in continuity and many do a lot. The HMT synonymous with accurate time in India had given the Swiss run for their money. It changed the watch market and made Asia proud. Possibly few know that Mrs Indira Gandhi, then as Congress leader and daughter of prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was its brand ambassador, shortly before the 1962 general elections.

It is indeed a surprise that the government decides to continue with the white elephant sorry “Maharaja” that is draining the government. It requires Rs 30,000 crore of government money to keep it flying. It would continue to make losses for the next decade.

The HMT Watches on the contrary has a loss of mere Rs 694.52 in 2012, even with all accumulation it is about Rs 700 crore even today.

It now plans to sell about 70 acres of land in north Bangalore for as much as Rs. 700 crore. HMT and its units hold 200 acres in Bangalore and around 1,500 acres across Hyderabad, Pinjore in Haryana and Kalamassery in Kerala. In reality, running the HMT would not cost the government a bit.

If it functions once the government decides to pay for its losses and allows it to operate on a token basis, its hand-wound watches can fetch a minimum price of Rs 1 lakh in posh markets in India and the West.

It can even make the factory a tourist destination and charge gate money. The losses in all probability would be wiped off and modern living industrial monument would pay homage to the efforts of a nascent nation.

In fact, seven PSUs slated for closure have total losses of about Rs 3139 crore, said minister of state for PSUs GM Siddheshwar. In addition, Hindustan Photofilms has a loss of Rs 1561 crore and Hindustan Cables Rs 885 crore. The total losses are Rs  5385.

The companies to be revived as per BIFR proposals include Scooters India, Tyre Corporation and Hindustan Antibiotics. These would be revived as joint venture with private sector or through disinvestments.

It raises yet another question whether we should really not call the shots for Air India – a shame than pride for this country. Those responsible for this poor state unfortunately continue to still drain the government. Are we rewarding people for their inefficiency?

Possibly the others slated for closure like HMT Bearings, Tungabhadra Steel Products, Hindustan Photofilm, Bharat Opthalmic and Bharat Yantra Nigam, Hindustan Cables and Spices Trading Corporation were areas where normally the government should not have gone into. Despite that their total losses are considered dirt in comparison to Air India.

The companies have their productive life. Closing them down is sensible at times. The yardstick however has to be the same for all big or small. It is not prudent to inject life-saving drugs to a dying Air India. Let it die. Institutions like HMT Watches have a different value. Let us save HMT Watches and kill Air India. It would be the most prudent decision.



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