Mysore: Its manufacturing cost is less than one percent of the general election budget, yet the ink manufactured by a little known state-run enterprise here leaves an indelible line on your finger: proof that you have exercised your right to vote.
Tucked in the eastern suburb of Karnataka's cultural city, about 140 km from Bangalore, the 72-year-old Mysore Paints & Varnish Ltd (MVPL), the sole supplier of indelible ink to the Election Commission of India, is working overtime to manufacture a whopping 20,140 litres of unique violet ink and dispatch it in the coming weeks to 28 states and seven Union Territories (UTs) in 10 ml (millilitre) plastic bottles of 7.5 cm size.
"The quantum of ink for delivery in phials has doubled to 10 ml each for the 15th Lok Sabha elections, as the poll panel had changed the ink-marking rule in 2006 on a voter's finger from a dot to a line that runs from top of the nail to the bottom of first joint," MVPL managing director K.J. Suresh told IANS.
PEOPLE'S TURN: Voters at an election booth in Srinagar. India goes to elections in weeks.
Though the new rule was applied in states that held assembly elections or by-polls after 2006, this is the first time the line will be enforced uniformly in the 2009 parliamentary polls in five phases from April 16 to May 13 across the country.
"Our unique product has a small but vital role to play in the country's largest democratic exercise, as it leaves an indelible mark on every voter pressing the EVM (electronic voting machine) on the D-day. The line cannot be erased for 15 days. The ink also signifies the power of the electorate in deciding the fortunes of contestants," Suresh pointed out.
The indelible ink, a heady mix of chemicals, dyes, aromatic materials and silver nitrate, is a singular commodity that is exclusively used in state-run elections from local bodies to the Indian Parliament.
MVPL also exports the voters' ink to a few countries such as Canada, Cambodia, the Maldives, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa and Turkey.
"As the sole supplier for election purpose since 1962, we do not sell the indelible ink in the market or for any other activity so as to maintain its sanctity, dignity and significance. The poll panel has been placing the order with us since then due to the ink's quality, reliability, safety, security and confidentiality," Suresh said.
Estimated to cost the exchequer Rs.120 million (Rs.12 crore) for about two million bottles of 10 ml each, the indelible ink accounts for less than one percent of the total budget of Rs.13 billion (Rs.1,300 crore) to be spent by the government to conduct the general elections this time.
"We pay royalty annually to the state-run National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) for licensing the chemical formula developed by the Delhi-based National Physical Laboratory (NPL)," Suresh said.
With some states such as Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar going to the polls in five-four phases beginning April 16, the first lot of consignments will be dispatched during March 15-20 and to other states and UTs during March 25-30.
To ensure safe and secure delivery of the orange-coloured ink bottles to the respective states and UTs on schedule, they are fully insured and shipped by air, train or road in sealed boxes through a network of transport contractors.
As the most populous state, Uttar Pradesh ranks at the top with an order for 286,000 bottles and the Lakshwadeep Islands at the bottom requiring only 120 bottles. It's 100,000 for the home state (Karnataka).
"Each polling booth is given two bottles of 10 ml each for marking the line on about 700 voters. In case of more number of electorate, extra bottles are supplied by authorisation," Suresh said.
About 100 employees work in two shifts a day to manufacture the ink in secrecy.
"The semi-automatic process involves mixing, filling, plugging, capping, labelling and packing under strict supervision and tight security," Suresh added.
Interestingly, when the plant is busy producing the election ink, the manufacture of industrial coatings, paints, varnish and lac - the other items manufactured - is suspended till the last consignment of bottles is dispatched.
Thanks to the huge election ink order, the profitable Karnataka-owned public sector undertaking, MPVL, will post a sales turnover of Rs.160 million (Rs.16 crore) for this fiscal (2008-09) as against Rs.90 million (Rs.9 crore) last fiscal (2007-08).
Spread over 10 acres, the old-fashioned plant was set up in the royal city way back in 1937 by then Mysore Maharaja Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar to utilise the natural resources of the nearby forests and generate employment to locals.
The erstwhile Mysore state took over the company in 1947 after Independence.