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Gutenberg connection

While most of the 1.27 lakh employees of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation celebrated Shiv Jayanti last month to revere the great 17th century Maratha warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji...

Written by Stuti Shukla |
March 7, 2010 12:17:34 am

75-year-old BMC press traces its old link with printing machine inventor

While most of the 1.27 lakh employees of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation celebrated Shiv Jayanti last month to revere the great 17th century Maratha warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji,employees of the civic printing press department also saluted Johannes Gutenberg,the German goldsmith who invented the printing press in the 15th century.

On February 3,the death anniversary of Gutenberg,the staff of the municipal printing press at Byculla remembered the inventor. On March 1,the press turned 75.

The printing press is the second oldest in the city,after the press in Charni road,owned by the state government,which is a century old.

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On March 1,1935 the then Bombay Municipal Corporation started the press in the basement of the Improvements Trust building that now houses the ENT Municipal Hospital in Churchgate. It has changed location and machines since. But the first printing machine,purchased by the British-run Bombay Municipal Corporation in 1935 from a firm in England is functional even today,though it has limited capacity. The machine has been preserved along with the original Heidelberg (the German city famous for manufacturing printing presses) machines purchased in the late 1930s.  

The press is now spread over 5,000 square meters in Byculla west. It prints a variety of material involved in business of the civic body,like agendas and proceedings of civic committee meetings,revenue and accounts books,letters,corporation publications,question papers in eight languages for BMC-run municipal schools and budget copies. The current annual budget for raw material and maintenance of machines is over Rs 20 crore.

Prior to 1935,the municipal corporation established in 1888 entrusted its printing work to private presses,largely to a well-read English daily of those times.  In the early 1930s,the need for an independent,civic-owned printing press was felt. With two conventional hand-operated treadle machines and six workers using the hand-composing method of printing,the press at Churchgate functioned until 1950.

It was shifted to the civic-owned crusher godown premises near Masjid Bunder railway station in 1951.  “As the jurisdiction of the corporation increased with rapid development of the suburbs,the need for a bigger press was felt,” said Kishor Surti,manager of the Byculla press. Large portraits of Gutenberg and Alois Senefelder,a German actor credited with inventing the printing technique of lithography in 1796,adorn Surti’s office.

Mechanical composing was introduced at the press in the mid 1950s. Surti,who joined the press in 1980,has traced its history through old records and correspondence with old employees. “Working in a mechanical composing set up with huge machines was like standing in a furnace. Workers would get drenched in sweat. The phototype composing,better known as cold composing,was introduced only in 1984,” said Surti.

The phototype was introduced after a delegation from the press was sent to the Drupa Printing exhibition in Germany in 1983.

The press was later shifted to Byculla in 1997 with the introduction of offset technology,which was in use until 2005. The civic body embraced Desktop Publishing (DTP) in 2006. It has been relying on state-of-the-art digital printing machines since 2009,when it first purchased a colour printer. The press employs 385 workers and owns 16 modern printing machines,six Indian,six German and four Japanese.

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