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Photo Essay | End of the road

LiveMint logoLiveMint 06-06-2014 Ronny Sen

A cloudy grey sky and downed shutters greeted me at the desolate plant of the legendary Hindustan Motors Ltd. Once the country’s largest car manufacturer, it was the maker of the Ambassador, the roomy, ubiquitous car that became an Indian icon—as the white Ambassador of Very Important People, and the taxi to be hailed on streets.

On 24 May, Hindustan Motors suspended work at the Uttarpara plant in Hooghly, West Bengal. It was the only plant making these cars.

A small town on the banks of the Hooghly river, Uttarpara is home to several industries. It’s about an hour’s train journey from Kolkata’s Howrah station.

I travelled there on my Honda scooter. I made my way along the dusty tracks leading to the factory, imagining how busy this area must have been in its heyday.

According to the company’s website, Hindustan Motors was established before independence in Gujarat. It moved operations in 1948 to Uttarpara—and it was there that the company started manufacturing the Ambassador.

For a long time now, the company had been suffering losses. Industry data shows that in 2013-14, it sold just 2,200 Ambassadors, a drop in the ocean of 1.8 million passenger cars sold during the financial year. The number of employees working in the factory was just a little higher, at around 2,500.

In a statement announcing the closure, Hindustan Motors cited “worsening conditions at its Uttarpara plant, which include very low productivity, growing indiscipline, critical shortage of funds, lack of demand for its core product, the Ambassador, and large accumulation of liabilities”.

I visited the plant within days of its closure. A handful of men were loitering outside the gate. They used to work at the factory, and had identity cards to prove it. “I am yet to receive my wages for the last six months,” said one worker on condition of anonymity. A Hindustan Motors employee for 18 years, and a father of two, he added, “We have received an indefinite suspension of work order.”

A printed notice on a Hindustan Motors letterhead was stuck on the gate. The first paragraph said: “The grave situation facing the company is apparent to all concerned, especially the employees who have been updated at all times of the worsening condition. The company is faced with a stark situation.”

I entered the huge compound; the guard did not stop me. There was no one inside, except for a few guards. I wandered around for a while, taking a few pictures, till a guard approached me and asked me to leave. By then, it had begun drizzling. There was no escaping the gloom.

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