Kannauj (Uttar Pradesh): Kannauj was once ruled by the biggest Indian dynasties but today the city’s famous for its 4,000-year-old attar or perfume trade.
Attar is still prepared in large copper vessels by some manufacturers but in a 65-year-old factory in Kannauj, entrepreneur Punit Jain has broken tradition. The firewood and copper cauldrons have given way to a state-of-the-art extraction unit
The grandson of a humble attar maker today is an international perfume designer whose nose is insured for Rs 3 crore.
“I wanted to bring the company to a larger scale. I started production with higher precision, better technology and today my product sells all over the world,” Jain says proudly.
Twenty-six-year-old Jain's fortunes may be soaring but the attar business in Kannauj is on the decline. Steep raw material prices and little aid from the state government have meant 20 of the 21 sandalwood mills in this town have shut down over the last 10 years.
Every second house in Kannauj still produces and packages attar like it was done over a 100 years ago. UP boasts of 30,000 such entrepreneurs both organised and unorganised but unfortunately most have remained small scale, untouched by industrial reforms, with little help from successive state governments.
But here's the irony – UP is in fact a potential mecca for young businessmen. It has the highest purchasing power in the country and amongst the lowest labour costs. Its agricultural output is twice that of Punjab but none of that has translated into economic opportunity or prosperity with industrial growth at a dismal 4 per cent.
When 29-year-old Ali retail distributor Sherwani started out as a retail distributor in Aligarh, things didn't come easy and he doesn't mask his disillusionment with the current government
“There is severe electricity problem, no good roads, government departments are against the business community, they don’t facilitate anything. Whether you want to make a needle or an aircraft, today you need political influence,” Sherwani says.
In the end, it all boils down to strong political connections, something that Jain's family enjoys.
“Akhilesh Yadav (UP CM’s parliamentarian son) is a good friend of mine but one should also realise that changes in Kannauj in the last three years haven't happened in the last 20 years,” says Jain.
But Ali, like scores of businessmen before him wants to seek his fortunes away from UP.
“All the political parties have religiously dismantled manufacturing from UP. You can call it migrating to a greener side of country. But if the government gives me support in UP then why would I go?” asks Sherwani.
(With inputs from Abhishek Patni in Lucknow)