A visit to Northern Railway Printing Press and Stationery Depot

Going silent after decades of operation

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Northern Railway
The Northern Railway Printing Press and Stationery Depot, originally one of the 17 printing presses of the Indian Railways, was the biggest both in terms of area and manpower. Photo IPP

Nestled in a lush green belt, which also serves as a natural habitat to peacocks, eagles and several species of snakes near west Delhi’s Punjabi Bagh, is the Shakur Basti Northern Railway Printing Press and Stationery Depot. The last of the remaining five presses owned and operated by Indian Railways that will go silent after decades in operation.

Until now, the printing presses have been catering to a variety of printing jobs, including express fare ticket (EFT) books, PRS and PSU train tickets, general forms, books, RPF items, reservation slips, PTOs, and first and second class railway passes.

This unit is among the five remaining that will be shut. The others are at Byculla in Mumbai, Howrah, Royapuram in Chennai and Secunderabad.

The Northern Railway Printing Press and Stationery Depot, originally one of the 17 printing presses of the Indian Railways, was the biggest both in terms of area and manpower. In its golden days, the press employed close to 1,500 people, which has now trickled down to a mere 140.

Northern Railway
The 2014 Rototec perfect NT 004 nine color printing press at Shakur Basti Northern Railway Printing Press and Stationery Depot. Photo IPP

The depot houses an array of printing and binding equipment, including a HMT SOM 136 single color sheetfed offset printing machine, a 2014 Rototec perfect NT 004 nine color printing press, a 1987 Sud & Waren four color printing press, a Rekord paper cutting machine and perfect binding equipment.

Established in 1954, the Shakur Basti depot used to stock and deliver stationery for different railway stations of the Northern Railway.

The press also houses a lath machine – the Poly Master PMS/60 – Export (Type A) — for sharpening of spare parts and an adjoining workshop where electrical and mechanical requirements of the presses were made.

All that will be past now.

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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