Changing printing scenario in Mathura

The Thriving Printing Hub of Mathura

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The printing hub of Mathura is thriving, as is evident from the large number of orders that printers receive for printing school and college textbooks. Textbook printing in Mathura picked up in the late 90s – a time when most of the state governments started funding for the education of poor.

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), an Indian government program aimed at the universalization of elementary education for children between the ages 6 and 14 at no cost, gave further boost to the printing business in Mathura. The program enforced during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s term as the prime minister of India in 2001 made education free and compulsory for children aged 6 to 14. The count of the number of children under the program was estimated to be somewhere near 205 million.

The program gave a much-needed push to printers across the country. Printers in Mathura were already working for a number of private publishers, and soon after the enforcement of the SSA, they started getting orders from state governments.

Various state governments got the textbooks printed through these printers by offering open tenders. Currently, Uttar Pradesh alone funds for a total of 2 crore children under the SSA scheme. The government provides nearly 15 crore textbooks for children being educated under SSA. Similarly, every other state funds for the education of the poor.

“Apart from the government textbooks, we get orders from NCERT for printing several books. We get a huge demand from a number of big states across the country. The highest is from the UP government. Similarly, we get a huge demand from Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh,” says Gaurav Agrawal, proprietor of G-tech Print Works in Mathura.

Although G-tech began under the proprietorship of Agrawal, his family has been in the printing business for over two decades. Agrawal closely observed the business as he grew up and soon after completing his post-graduation, decided to set up his own printing unit.

Initially, printing in Mathura was confined to devotional books. Mathura being the birth place of Lord Krishna has been attracting a number of tourists over the years and is considered as a sacred city of Northern India, hence contributing to the demand for devotional books. Books printed in Mathura continue to be supplied all over the country. Slowly, with the advent of bigger printing facilities such as the Gitapress Gorakhpur, printers in Mathura started losing a big share of their work. Television played further role in demolishing a well-established printing business in Mathura.

Slowly, the printers turned to academic printing. A number of contracts started pouring in from private publishers for printing guide books and reference books. With changes in government policies, there was much focus on education and this led to a growth in demand for textbook printing in Mathura.

“Printing was confined to sheets during the early 90s. None of the printers in Mathura knew about the web technology though it was present. Web technology helps to print books comparatively faster. By the late 90s, the roll-to-sheet technology was successful only in single or two colors. In the year 1997, my father went for an exhibition in New Delhi. There he saw an Orient TPH 4-color press for the first time. He immediately realized that this machine would give a big boost to his textbook printing business. With the help of a few other partners, my father managed to install the machine. It was the first 4-color web offset press for printing textbooks in India at that time. It was basically a newspaper printing machine that he bought for printing textbooks. However, TPH made some changes to the press to enable textbook printing on it. There has been no looking back since then,” Agrawal adds.

Recently, G-tech installed two second-hand web offset machines that it purchased from Ahmedabad, Gujarat. “During my recent visit to Ahmedabad, I was surprised to learn that web technology was not known to them till 2011. They were all using sheetfed technology. With changing printing patterns, the printers had to change from sheetfed technology to web technology and it happened as late as 2011,” Agrawal shares.

The Indian paper industry is in a sweet spot. The rise in paper prices globally has provided an umbrella for raising domestic paper prices even as backward integration for wood/pulp locally through farm forestry has been successful. “The rising paper prices have affected every printer in the country lately. We’re in a helpless situation and can’t bear any further losses. Hence, I’m now printing all the textbooks without bearing the cost of the paper. The government purchases the paper and provides it to me in required quantities,” Agrawal says.

Currently, G-tech owns 4 web offset printing presses, 2 sheetfed printing presses and a complete postpress setup at its facility in Mathura. For prepress, the company makes the plates in-house but outsources any work that involves CtP. All the printing presses operating at G-tech’s units are from a Faridabad-based web offset machine manufacturer, Ideal Printographics Pvt. Ltd.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital 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.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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