Iconic 123-year-old Central Railways press in Mumbai’s Byculla set to close down

Press classified as part of ëunproductive venturesí

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Mumbai suburban train tickets are now printed on a digital printer
Mumbai suburban train tickets are now printed on a digital printer

Central Railways’ iconic printing press in central Mumbai’s Byculla area is expected to shut down soon, if a report published by The Times of India on 16 August is to be believed. The press was opened in 1895 and initially was the hub of printing activities for the Great Indian Peninsula Railways, printing everything from tickets to railway stationery.

The decision to shut down the press comes after the railway ministry late last year proposed to close all the railway printing presses, which the ministry now considers part of ‘unproductive ventures’. In fact, the proposal to close all the 16 printing presses owned by the Indian Railways across the country first found mention in 2001 in the Rakesh Mohan Committee report. The idea of closing the presses was formally proposed last year by the railway ministry in the aftermath of the tragic incident of stampede that took place at the Elphinstone Road railway station in September 2017. Following the unfortunate stampede incident, a high-level meeting was held by railway minister Piyush Goyal, wherein the chairman and other railway board officials also participated. Certain important decisions were taken in the said meeting, including closure of railway printing presses.

There is a reason why the railway ministry considers these presses part of ‘unproductive ventures’. According to The Times of India, out of the 16 presses owned by the railways, only five presses are operational across the country. All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF) has opposed the ministry’s decision stating that closure of the presses will disrupt lives of the employees and their families. However, the ministry has gone forward with its decision and in July, the railways closed the Mahalaxmi printing press, also in Mumbai, which was under the Western Railways.

The Byculla press under the Central Railways was the hub of printing activities before the onset of computers. Items such as tickets, receipts, time tables, documents and books meant for railways was printed at the Byculla press. “There was a time when 25 crore tickets were printed for Central Railways annually. Gradually the strength of employees, too, has come down from around 1,200 to 350,” an employee at the press told The Times of India.

The local railway unions have now opposed the decision to shut the Byculla press. One union member told The Times of India that if work is outsourced to private printing presses, these presses may not be able to meet large requirements on time. However, a Central Railways official was more pragmatic. “The railways are run as a socialist organization, but time has come to cut wasteful expenditure and deploy human resources for more productive work in operations, safety or commercial department. No decision has been taken on shutting down the press, but employees will be rehabilitated in other departments with no loss in pay scale,” the employee told The Times of India.

2023 promises an interesting ride for print in India

Indian Printer and Publisher founded in 1979 is the oldest B2B trade publication in the multi-platform and multi-channel IPPGroup. While the print and packaging industries have been resilient in the past 33 months since the pandemic lockdown of 25 March 2020, the commercial printing and newspaper industries have yet to recover their pre-Covid trajectory.

The fragmented commercial printing industry faces substantial challenges as does the newspaper industry. While digital short-run printing and the signage industry seem to be recovering a bit faster, ultimately their growth will also be moderated by the progress of the overall economy. On the other hand book printing exports are doing well but they too face several supply-chain and logistics challenges.

The price of publication papers including newsprint has been high in the past year while availability is diminished by several mills shutting down their publication paper and newsprint machines in the past four years. Indian paper mills are also exporting many types of paper and have raised prices for Indian printers. To some extent, this has helped in the recovery of the digital printing industry with its on-demand short-run and low-wastage paradigm.

Ultimately digital print and other digital channels will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future. For instance, there is no alternative to a rise in textbook consumption but this segment will only reach normality in the next financial year beginning on 1 April 2023.

Thus while the new normal is a moving target and many commercial printers look to diversification, we believe that our target audiences may shift and change. Like them, we will also have to adapt with agility to keep up with their business and technical information needs.

Our 2023 media kit is ready, and it is the right time to take stock and reconnect with your potential markets and customers. Print is the glue for the growth of liberal education, new industry, and an emerging economy. We seek your participation in what promises to be an interesting ride.

– Naresh Khanna

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