Monday 29 July 2013

The looms that fell silent

It was nearly ten years ago that one of Bangalore’s best loved institutions closed down. The closure brought down the curtains on one of  Bangalore’s most important industrial relic. Since then, the institution has remained a mute spectator to developments that has overtaken Bangalore and transformed it into a front-line city of India.
This relic was in the news recently when the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) decided to swap a part of the land on which the institution stands with the Indian Railways.
The Indian Railways have been desperately trying to acquire lands for the much-expansion of the City Railway Station in Majestic. The City Railway Station is over utilised and further expansion has been put on hold due to the non-availability of land. The City Railway Station has ten platforms and all of them are utilised to the maximum extent possible. The platforms cater to 95 trains every day.
The railways have been unable to introduce new trains from the City Railway Station due to the non-availability of platforms and related infrastructure. Therefore, they have had to introduce new trains or extend the existing trains to and from Yeshwanthpur and Mysore.
The City Railway Station comes under the Bangalore Bangalore division of the South Western Railways (SWR).  The division has  managed to obtain 3.3 acres of land of the erstwhile Binny Mills in Cottonpet.
While the Railways get the land to expand their operations, they will hand over 3.16 acres of Railways land to the BBMP for construction of the Okalipuram Corridor for the flyover connecting Majestic to Fountain Circle in Rajajinagar.
The swap might not be that easy as a company petition relating to the assets of Binny Mills was decided in the Madras High Court regarding partition of the assets, including the mill land in Bangalore.
However, the 16-acre land on which Binny Mills is situated had attracted the attention of  SWR authorities who felt it would go a long way in meeting their demand for the expansion of the City Railway Station.
With the BBMP agreeing to hand over only 3.3 acres, the SWR now plans to expand the pit line from its present 18-coach facility to a 24-coach facility. The Railways are yet to get possession of the land, though a preliminary notification has already been issued on February 12, 2013. 
Whatever be the status, the mill is now history. The iconic institution closed down in 2005 after a long and illustrious innings in which it made a name for itself as one of the foremost manufacturers of cotton clothes. The proximity of the mills to both the railway station and bus stand and also to several markets gave it an edge that others could only envy.
The Bangalore Woollen, Silk and Cotton Mills, as it was known, was one of the most prominent landmarks of Bangalore and it was as much known for its quality of clothes as for its antiquity. You see, this was the first of the textile mills set up in Bangalore way back in 1884.
The steam driven looms in the mill continued to operate till 1902 after which it was discontinued and it ran on electricity. The mill then first received power at a rate of  2300 volts through the Bangalore power station and this equalled 800 horse power. It was among the largest consumers of electricity in 1912. It regularly used upto 950 HP of power, which made it the biggest consumer in Bangalore
The Binny Mills had both cotton and woollen spindles. The cotton yarn of Binnys commanded top price in Calcutta, and its woollen and hosiery products were known all over India. One outstanding record of the mill is that in 1913 it produced one million pounds of weight of blankets which were supplied to all units of the Army and Government departments.
Binny Mills was taken over by the Chennai-based Buckingham and Carnatic Mills (Binny & Co.), which operated it for over a century, manufacturing high grade cotton, and, a range of products for the defence – bed sheets, green sweaters, pullovers and blankets.
For thousands of school children till the 1980s, Binny meant excellent and high quality uniforms both in Bangalore and in Chennai. In Bangalore, the Binny georgette sarees, which were a rage among Bangaloreans, have now been revived by a few people
who were originally employed in the Mills. The sarees are available in a store called Rajnikant in Chickpet just off Avenue Road. The lane is just opposite the well-known shop of  Byrappa Silks.
The Binnys, originally from Scotland, lived in Madras, and they came to the port city in 1797 and established the cotton mills. Apart from Finlays in Bombay which had three mills with a combined capacity of one lakh spindles and 2000 looms, the other major mill in the textile sector was Binny Mills.
Binnys had two cotton mills in Chennai which it set up in 1876 and 1881 and it took over a smaller unit in Bangalore. Soon, Binnys sold goods not only in the country but also to China and became known as pioneers of mechanised dyeing and finishing. Its motto was quality before quantity and its Khaki clothes commanded a good price and were rated the best in India
The mills spun out their trademark goods till the 1980s when the decline set in. Labour problems, high cost of production, competition, high taxes, declining profits and a litany of other factors saw the mills trimming their labour force from 7500 to a mere 1,000.
Binny was formed in 1969 by amalgamation of  The Buckingham & Carnatic Company Limited, Madras (it is located in Perambur  and till a decade ago, it was the biggest textiles mill in Asia, having an installed spindleage capacity of 88,208 spindles, of which 79,072 were utilised. It had an installed loom capacity of 2,074 looms out of which 1,816 looms were utilised. It has a "dye house" or "processing house" and a central power station) , The Banglore Woollen, Cotton & Silk Mills Company Limited, Banglore, Madura Company Private Limited, Cochin, The Ganges Transport & Trading Company Limited, Calcutta, Binny & Company Limited, Madras and Binny's Engineering Works Limited, Madras.
However, after amalgamation, Binny incurred losses and in 1993 the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) declared Binny a sick unit. It came out of the purview of the BIFR by the August 7, 2008 order of the Madras High Court. 
The mills closed down completely in 2005 and since then they stood mutely watching the City going forward even as its fate remains to be decided. The once clattering looms have now gone silent and the near future might see the whistle of locomotives.
Apart from the building, many thousand houses in and around Cottonpet, Kempapura Agrahara, Okalipuram and other areas still shelter employees of this mill.
An interesting anecdote is that Pandit Rama Rao Naik of Agra Gharana who  played the role of the thief in Sadarame, produced by the famous Gubbi Drama Company, was a daily wage worker in Binny Mills.

Coincidentally, other mills around the City Railway Station such as Raja Mills, Minerva Mills, TR Mills and Chandra Spinning and Weaving Mills too have closed down, a sad reminder of the bygone days but that is another story.        

1 comment:

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