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IS kills off Bengal trade

Balarampur (Purulia), Feb. 28: The Islamic State’s rampage through West Asia has taken the shine off Purulia’s shellac, strangling a cottage industry and the livelihood of over 3,000 people.

Families in Purulia’s Balarampur and Jhalda blocks had for decades earned their living processing the resin, whose lustrous flake was exported to Iraq and Syria for industrial use, mainly in petrochemicals.

Now, the conflict 5,000km away has killed off export demand and reduced the district’s Rs 300-crore industry to Rs 10-20 crore a year, catering to smaller markets in India and Bangladesh at lower prices.

Most of the 300-odd small to medium-scale factories in Bengal’s lone shellac-producing district, involving investments between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 50 lakh each, have closed.

“We had never imagined that turmoil in a faraway land could rob us of our livelihood,” said Asok Soren, 50, of Buradi.

For 15 years, Soren had worked eight hours a day for a wage of Rs 180 to sustain his family of four. He now struggles to find work for more than a day or two a month.

Shellac – lakkha in Bengali – is a natural resin found mainly in India, Thailand, Indonesia and China and used in over 100 industries, including shipping.

“The industry began declining in 2011 because of the local Maoist problem and the Syrian civil war. The Islamic State’s arrival in 2013 further lowered the demand,” said Hari Shankar Jaiswal, a factory owner in Balarampur.

“It reached an all-time low after the Paris attacks last November, which triggered a western reprisal in West Asia.”

An export agency owner in Calcutta said that importers in Syria and Iraq had refused to place fresh orders. “They said the war had finished their business.”

Jaiswal, who owns the Ankit Shellac Factory, said the district exported around 2,000 tonnes of various varieties of shellac, such as sticklac, seedlac and de-waxed bleached. They fetched Rs 12-14 lakh a tonne.



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