• 'Sick' for 20 years but government eyes revival of fund-guzzling fabric-maker

           
                     This textile mill in Kanpur deserves the title of being a true relic of the British Raj. The Raj imprint is all over, including on its very name - British India Corporation Limited (BIC) - and its subsidiaries, which were set up in the nineteenth century. The company was officially declared sick almost two decades ago and could not be revived despite repeated attempts over the past decades.
    But its present owner - the Government of India - has not given up hope. The Union cabinet only recently approved another revival package for BIC.
    The accumulated losses of the company for the past three years alone amount to about Rs 150 crore, yet the government wants to revive it. The cost of revival has been estimated to be Rs 338 crore.
    The corporation's origin goes back to 1876 when the Cawnpore Woollen Mills was set up by five Englishmen. It was taken under the fold of BIC, which was founded in 1920, along with other subsidiaries.
    The oldest of its subsidiaries, Elgin Mills Company, was founded in 1864 and had two units in Kanpur, while Brushware Limited was established in 1893.
    The third subsidiary, Cawnpore Textiles Limited, came up in 1920. All the three subsidiaries are either under liquidation, litigation or facing closure.
    The parent company, BIC, still survives as a fully owned public sector enterprise under the Union ministry of textiles. It has two 'functional' units - one in Kanpur and another called New Egerton Woollen Mills Branch at Dhariwal in Punjab (established in 1880).
    Both make woollen and worsted fabric for suits as well as blankets, rugs and cloth for military uniforms. The company's products are sold under brand names of 'Lalimli' and 'Dhariwal'.
    The latest revival package approved by the central government included a grant of Rs 17 crore for introduction of a voluntary retirement scheme for surplus workforce of the company, and a bridge loan of Rs 11.5 crore for payment of interest liability to the State Bank of India.
    All hopes are pinned on the vast land bank BIC is sitting on in Kanpur and Dhariwal. The government wants to sell the surplus land to raise funds to be pumped back into the sick unit.
    However, land can't be sold straightaway because it had been leased out by the Uttar Pradesh government to the company.
    'Action for conversion of leasehold into freehold has been initiated and initial fee for conversion paid,' the textile ministry said.
    The sale of surplus land at Dhariwal, though, may be easier as the land is freehold and legal hurdles have been overcome.
    After independence, the BIC's ownership changed hands and began to be headed by Haridas Mundra, who later got involved in the famous Mundra scam in the 1960s.
    It was nationalised and made a central public sector enterprise in 1981. The company was at the verge of closure when the government took over and it was declared sick very soon.
    Since then, it has been incurring huge losses because of obsolete machinery, surplus staff and shortage of working capital. Its staff strength comprises over 2,000 workers and officers.
    Sickness is synonymous with government owned textiles mills in the country.
    The National Textile Corporation (NTC) has raised several hundred crores in the past decade by selling surplus land and used the funds for voluntary retirement schemes. At one point, NTC had close to 100 mills across the country and about 200 retail showrooms.
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