Wednesday, 23 November, 2022
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This ‘start-up zone’ in Bihar is West Champaran’s answer to lockdown migrant exodus

The district administration in West Champaran has set up a start-up zone that is run by the migrant labourers who returned jobless during last year's Covid lockdown.

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Chanpatia: Santosh Mishra, 38, still can’t believe he has a job in his home district, that he is working while living with his family. 

Over the past 18 years, he worked in Ludhiana, Punjab, in the absence of jobs in Bihar’s West Champaran. He now works as a line master at a unit that manufactures track suits in a “start-up zone” set up by the district administration in the Chanpatia block.

The start-up zone was the district administration’s answer to last year’s migrant exodus from cities that brought thousands of jobless people back to their homes in the Bihar hinterland. The idea was to tap the skills of these workers to provide employment solutions that were closer to home.

It all started with the district administration ordering a skill-mapping exercise to be conducted at the quarantine centres where many of these migrants stayed upon their return. What they discovered was a talent pool of great potential, with the migrants skilled in a host of different fields. 

Cut to the present, and the start-up zone houses 27 units, set up by entrepreneurs who have been helped by the district administration in getting loans as well as machinery.

The units, which function from warehouses of the State Food Corporation that had been lying idle, churn out a host of different offerings, from shirts, lowers, sanitary pads, and jackets, to crockery and cricket bats. Over the past year, items worth Rs 7 crore have been sold, even exported. 

Mishra works with a clothing brand called Lisso, which is owned by Mrityunjay Sharma, 29, of Bettiah.

Mrityunjay Sharma, 29, who owns a clothing unit, with a designer who works with him | Sajid Ali | ThePrint
Mrityunjay Sharma, 29, who owns a clothing unit, with a designer who works with him | Sajid Ali | ThePrint

Sharma lost his job as an engineer in the telecom sector in Delhi during the first wave of coronavirus. It took him more than Rs 35 lakh to set up his brand, whose products now go to Delhi, Muzaffarpur, Siwan and the neighbouring districts of West champaran.

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Opportunity in crisis

After the central government announced the nationwide lockdown in March 2020, West Champaran received more than 1.20 lakh migrant workers from different parts of the country, according to district administration estimates.

To receive the incoming labourers, and prevent them from potentially carrying Covid to their hometowns, the district administration set up 418 quarantine centres. Almost 80,000 workers were quarantined in these centres, while others isolated at home.

“After quarantine, we thought about giving them some sort of work. So, we decided to skill-map all the centres. The majority of our workers work in the fabric business in Surat, Ludhiana, Delhi, Mumbai and other parts of the country,” District Registration and Counselling Centre manager Shailesh Kumar Pandey told ThePrint.

The skill-mapping, conducted in April 2020, was a success as the administration found a lot of skilled workers who knew the ins and outs of the trade.

“We found these returnees are highly skilled in their domain. They knew all the verticals of the production chain. They knew computerised embroidery and laser technology,” District Magistrate Kundan Kumar said.

After the skill-mapping exercise, the administration took the help of these labourers to set up start-ups locally.

“There were massive warehouses of State Food Corporations lying idle in the Chanpatia Block, so we approached them and they let us use them,” Kumar said.

The idle State Food Corporation warehouses where the start-ups have been set up | Sajid Ali | ThePrint
The idle State Food Corporation warehouses where the start-ups have been set up | Sajid Ali | ThePrint

The administration not only helped the entrepreneurs procure machinery and raw material at the beginning, but also secure loans from different banks.

“I feel our dream to make West Champaran a production hub is getting realised as all the entrepreneurs are working very hard,” Kumar said.

Almost all unit owners, according to the district administration, have got loans between Rs 25 lakh to 50 lakh to kick-start their business.

The first unit was officially started in August 2020 by Lasani Garments, by Shoib Tahir, who used to work in Ludhiana. However, the district administration will mark the anniversary on 27 June, which marks the day the first meeting was held to get the plan off the ground.

Also Read: How this young IAS officer’s swift action saved hundreds of lives in two Bihar districts

Future of start-up zone

The start-up zone units have so far exported products to Spain, and work is on to send them to more countries. 

“My plan is to not just settle myself. It’s to give an opportunity to more people, so that we make West Champaran the next Surat or Ludhiana,” said Arun Kumar, who used to work in Surat.

Wakeel Ahmed, one of the entrepreneurs at the zone, shows a jacket manufactured by his unit | Sajid Ali | ThePrint
Wakeel Ahmed, one of the entrepreneurs at the zone, shows a jacket manufactured by his unit | Sajid Ali | ThePrint

Navneet, the owner of ADR Shirts, said he is “regularly in touch with retailers of Bihar, UP and Delhi about my brand”. “My plan is to generate a revenue of Rs 25 crore by 2024”.

The initiative in West Champaran has earned the praise of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who visited the zone in December last year.

Nitish Kumar is also believed to have instructed other district authorities in Bihar to start similar operations, so that the state’s workforce doesn’t have to migrate to other places.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: Covid has stranded Muzaffarpur migrants at home — and there aren’t enough jobs for everyone


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