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One by one,flour mills get wiped out,owners look for options

Over 20,000 mills shut down since 2010; High electricity bills,low demand,shortage of labour hampering business.

Written by Garima Mishra | Published: April 25, 2013 3:23:18 am

Until two years ago,Suraj Borate and his family used to run as many as 10 flour mills in different parts of the city. But today,they have none.

They have been forced to move on to alternative sources of income like grinding spices.

Reason: High electricity bills,low demand for freshly ground flour,shortage of skilled labour,and even availability of more cost-effective modes of acquiring freshly ground atta.

The flour mill business,on which the Borates survived for the past 30 years,is all but closed. Just like the Borates,a large number of flour mill owners have also switched over to other modes of income in the past two years.

Introduction of household flour mills or box chakkis is one of the major reasons why floor mill owners have gone out of business.

“A family of five to six can buy a box chakki and grind the flour on their own. The unit rate for electricity in their case is much lower than how much commercial users are charged. It is almost half the price for them. People feel that it is a far more economically viable investment for them,” says Borate,adding that finding skilled labourers is also an important problem faced by chakki owners.

“Till 2010,there were around 1,75,000 flour mills in Maharashtra. In the past two years,over 20,000 flour mill owners have shut shop,” says Louis Sangale,general secretary of Maharashtra Flour Mill Association and president of Flour Mill Owners’ Association. “The fate of these mills is uncertain due to several reasons,” Sangale said,pointing out the increase in the MSEB rates in the past three years,customers opting to buy ready-made atta and introduction of compact domestic atta chakkis as reasons for the sorry state of the mill owners in the state

According to Datta Gore,secretary of Pune Flour Mill Owners’ Association,out of 10,000 flour mills in 2010,only 3,500 mills remains today.

Adding to the reasons for poor business in the state,he pointed out,“Load-shedding was yet another reason for these mills to shut down. Whether or not we run a mill,we would have to pay the electricity bill,” says Gore.

“Three years ago,the MSEB rate was Rs 4.5 per unit. Now it is Rs 6. Labour charges have increased and the number of customers has reduced drastically. Forget profit! The business is incurring losses. That’s why most of us are looking for alternate ways to earn a living,” Sangale added.

For the past 15-20 years,the association had been urging the government to bring flour mills under the category of agriculture. Currently,it is considered an industrial unit. This,Sangale says,will make them eligible for government subsidies that are applicable for agriculture. “Flour mills are not into production but giving service. So,our demand is justified,” he asserted

For 55-year-old Prakash Dinkar Dhonde,who has been running his mill on Saswad Road for the past two decades,business has reduced by at least 50 per cent in the past two years.

“Earlier,my wife and I used to manage the mill. As we are growing old,we have hired a worker,whom we have to pay Rs 10,000 per month. Somehow we are managing. Since we have been doing this for the past 20 years,there is nothing else we can do at this age,” says Dhonde.

On an average,the business requires an investment of around Rs 2 lakhs to start a flour mill. This includes the rent for the place,which amounts to around Rs 1 lakh a month. Then there is the machinery (chakki/flour mill) and motor costs,which is around Rs 35,000. Setting up the MSEB meter and wiring together costs Rs 65,000. However,a household atta chakki costs around Rs 14,000 only.

“On an average,we sell around 10 such chakkis a month. Those who prefer fresh atta (flour) but do not have time to visit mills,can use them and is far more cost-effective for them,” said Ajay Palande,owner of Tej Enterprises that deals with such household equipment.

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