The Sorry Saga of a Past Glory, photo essay by Shoubhik Bandyopadhyay
The Sorry Saga of a Past Glory – The Plight of Asia’s First Tyre Factory Estate, Dunlop, Sahaganj, Hooghly
The Legacy of this Iconic Tyre Company Brand started with the discovery of Pneumatic Tyre by Scotsman John Boyd Dunlop in 1888. Entry into the tyre markets of India started in 1896 with marketing of cycle tyres into the country. Gradually the business expanded greatly with the head quarters being established at Dunlop House, Free School Street Kolkata in the year 1936. It was in the same year that the 239 acre plant of Dunlop, our subject of discussion here, the first of its kind in Asia at Sahaganj, Hooghly, West Bengal was set up. The plant commenced its production on this historic factory with tyres of passenger cars, cycles, and tyres of animal drawn vehicles while gradually upgrading to produce 300 varieties of tyres for trucks, buses, scooters, tractors, aircrafts, earthmovers and many more. This historical plant also proudly records testimonials of manufacturing tyres for aircrafts towards the end of the Second World War!
The height of Glory that this historical estate of Dunlop rose to can easily be derived from Managing Director Mr John Luckham’s review at the factory’s 31st Annual General Meeting held in Calcutta on 29th April 1957. To quote his notes on Employee Relations, Mr Luckham expressed, “At our Sahaganj Factory we now house, at low rents, a community of 4600 employees and their families. The standard of housing is very high and excellent medical services including a modern hospital are available to all. Canteens have been provided in which good meals are available at subsidised prices. The existing education facilities for children are now proving inadequate and a new school building is under construction. A market building is also being provided to improve shopping conditions for the residents in the Company’s housing estate. The construction of 65 additional houses, to which the Chairman referred on this occasion last year, is now well advanced and improved street lighting is being installed. All forms of sport are encouraged, for which the company provides the necessary grounds and buildings. Thus we strive to look after the welfare of our employees and extend their social amenities”.
The Company and its plant in Sahaganj, after having a successful run for nearly a century, ran into problems in late nineties of the Twentieth Century. Dunlop eventually had to shut down both its plants in East and South India. The Ruia Group, its present owners, acquired the Company in 2005 amidst complex situations. Temporary efforts of starting the closed factory were made however non-co-operation from a section of workers, labour unions, Political Parties etc didn’t move things any further. With the current West Bengal Government taking over in 2011, initiatives were taken to immediately call off the suspension of work at Dunlop’s Sahaganj unit while resolving issues through dialogues. The Factory only had around 872 permanent and 450 temporary workers by that time. However the Tug of War between the Owners’s demands, Government’s assurances etc only lead the fortunes of this glorious Industrial unit nowhere.
What Lies there now is a tragic instant. Lack of Security is prevalent everywhere. Removal of Factory Machinery still continues in Broad Daylight by anti socials who have found a good home to stay for themselves there. Several Structures of the Past like its Hospital, Doctors’ Quarters, Club House, and Cinema Hall etc have been brought down and only concrete platforms remain. There is a Feeling of Gloom all around its estate now wherein Neglect, Failure and Dejection can be felt. Only an English Medium School started by the Dunlop Management in 1966 still bustles with young souls who gather there every day towards their quest of learning and growth in Life ahead…