Despite GI tag, Dindigul industry ‘locked’ in trouble

Even after the iconic handmade lock, which is exclusively made in parts of Dindigul, earned ‘Geographical Indication’ (GI) status, this traditional lock industry is having a tough time keeping up with the technology, which could raise its supply and demand.
Despite GI tag, Dindigul industry ‘locked’ in trouble
An artisan involved in handcrafting locks at a workshop at Nagal Nagar in Dindigul; (right) various models of

Madurai

When it comes to safety, the handmade ‘Dindigul’ locks are the most-preferred brand among others in the market. Hence, the ‘Lock City’ of Dindigul, the neighbouring city of Madurai, has earned the honour for its unique quality workmanship. However, the industry is unable to capitalise on the advantage due to shrinking workforce, lock manufacturers feel.

Pandi, a locksmith from Nagal Nagar, said the making of locks has almost become a cottage industry in Dindigul. Though a variety of locks are handcrafted, ‘Mango’ lock is the top pick among others.

The locks are manufactured in parts of Nagal Nagar, Nallampatti, Kudai Paraipatti, Yagapanpatti and Kammalapatti.

Famed for its workmanship, many types of locks are made in various sizes from four inches to two feet and ranges in weight up to two kilos. After having granted the GI tag, manufacturers commonly wished that it could brandish a policy against duplication.

Many are content with this new recognition, but locks made in Aligarh are making inroads into the market and giving tough competition. While cost of production and labour is lesser in Aligarh than in Dindigul, the local manufacturers could hardly compete with it, Pandi said.

ANS Pradeep Kumar, lock manufacturer from Abirami Kovil Street, Dindigul, said safety is guaranteed for people using Dindigul fame locks, often a challenge to house breakers.

The GI tag would, no doubt, allow the business to grow, but the acute shortage of labour force triggered a contraction in output. The post-GI tag attracted many buyers from various places and placed orders, but the makers could not execute it. Since most of the job-seekers had preferred less work for more pay, the manufacturers are finding the going tough. Now, the workforce is mostly aged between 50 and 60 in the lock making workshop.  Only a maximum of two locks could be produced daily with the shrinking workforce. Though there’s a consistent demand for the Dindigul handcrafted locks, famed for its uniqueness, it could not be catered to suit all the requirements of the buyers. The next generation is not willing to toil. Therefore, he opined that the younger generation, especially those pursuing courses in industrial training institutes, could get an exposure to lock manufacturing skills and employ themselves. To keep this traditional industry alive, Pradeep opined pension scheme for the workers.

During 1990s, over 2,000 manufacturers relied on this manufacturing sector in parts of Dindigul, but it has come down to 60 now.

According to R Manohara Pandian, secretary, Dindigul Lock Hardware and Steel Furniture Workers Industrial Cooperative Society, which was launched in 1958, and instrumental in getting the GI status, once had an enrolment of around 300 units.

Recalling the history, he said it was in 1930, Parattai Achari made a mango-sized lock and he was the one who designed drawer lock and square lock. During the Nayak Dynasty, heavyweight locks made in Dindigul were mostly used in surrounding areas of Malaikottai. It’s high time the manufacturers coped with changing times and produce modern varieties.

During Global Investors Meeting held in Chennai on January 19, 2019, many demanded ‘London’ locks, a high-priced variety at Rs 3,250, but contraction of skilled artisans forced the manufacturers to take back foot. Unlike others, handcrafting a lock is a laborious task.

As for SKC Kuppusamy, president, Dindigul Chamber of Commerce, this handmade sector is now burdened with 18 per cent GST, which should be waived off in the interest of the artisanship. The chamber expected few ancillary units for industrial development and employment generation after the GI status was awarded, but in vain. To waive of the GST, memoranda were given several times, but there’s no response, he said.

Meda A Balan, general secretary, the Dindigul Chamber of Commerce, said the lock industry is waning as there’s no support from governments, which could open up possibilities of export trade.

Apart from lock varieties, Dindigul is also known for making ‘iron safe’. Some 10 years ago, Dindigul locks had an assured market in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Assam. But, it has gradually dwindled owing to penetration of Aligarh locks into the market. The government should make a policy decision to buy Dindigul locks for its buildings and possessions.

When contacted, P Sanjai Gandhi, Nodal Officer, Geographical Indication registered Product, Tamil Nadu,  said the GI certificate for Dindigul handmade lock was issued by the Geographical Indication Registry on August 29, 2019. Assessing various parameters such as its earlier origin with the existence of 3,125 manufacturers, who made 50 varieties of locks, this ancient consumer product deserved the prestigious recognition.

As for its uniqueness, locks with multi-locking system are one special feature. Moreover, harmful or dangerous raw materials were not used in the making. More importantly, the precision lever mechanism of Dindigul lock is very unique one. 

Further, he said the GI-registered proprietors should take steps for brand promotion and adopt suitable marketing strategy and create their own marketing portal. It was necessary for them to affix registered GI logo on the product, he said. Apart from handmade locks, Virupakshi hill banana, Sirumalai hill banana and East India leather produced in Dindigul also enjoy the pride of GI status.
Iconic Lock
  • Dindigul locks are made in Nagal Nagar, Nallampatti, Kudai Paraipatti, Yagapanpatti and in Kammalapatti  
  • ‘Mango’ lock is the top pick among many varieties
  • Locks are made in various sizes from four inches to two feet and ranges in weight up to two kg
  • Dindigul locks got the GI tag on August 29, 2019
  • Major threat from cheaper Aligarh locks 
  • Handmade sector now burdened with 18 per cent GST

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