There is a Macondan air about the place. On this 317-acre estate by the Chaliyar, the famed Gwalior Rayons factory sits in ruins, like a Marquezian allegory.
The small town that once piggybacked on the Rayons factory’s fortunes, Mavoor has long given up on its ambition to become an industrial town. It still nurses memories of prosperity, the cheer of large crowd of factory workers and all-round development.
The town has seen it all — the arrival of a large factory that employed around 5,000 people, new hopes, new people, new cultures, fun and mirth; then, strife, unrest, workers’ strikes, people’s agitations, suicides, raw politics, arbitration, and finally, the factory’s closure and the emptying of the town.
True, Mavoor struggled to wriggle out of the despair. Propped up by remittances from people from the area working in the Gulf countries, it gradually returned to life. But economic disasters struck the place one after the other — the drop in the Gulf money, demonetisation and the general economic slowdown. Today, Mavoor is a depressed place like any other rural town in Malabar that has been hit by these disasters.
Local tea vendor Mohammed Panangod has seen the change the place has undergone over the decades. He started a shop on the Elamaram waterfront 30 years ago when he sensed that his contract job at the factory would never help him to be on the rolls of the company. The lifeline is gone, but the village still survives, he says.
Old-timers say the pay packets and annual bonus of the employees reflected on the economy of even the iconic S.M. Street in Kozhikode city. Malabar, nay, even the entire State, never had an industry in the private sector that employed so many people. Businesses thrived despite the frequent strikes off and on at the factory.
This change came since the Birla management and the State government of Kerala signed an agreement in May 1958 for setting up Rayon grade pulp manufacturing factory on the banks of the Chaliyar river. Four years later, the operations of the factory began. It gave direct employment to 1,840 workers and 350 office staff. Another 1.25 lakh people had indirectly benefited from the industry. Thus, Mavoor emerged as the most prosperous and envious grama panchayat in the State.
That began to change when the management closed the factory after workers resorted to an indefinite strike in 1985, demanding better salary and emoluments. Unfavourable government decisions, labour unrest and hike in royalty rate of raw materials were also cited reasons for the closure. It was the suicide of 13 workers that triggered the change in trade union activities. And the factory, which was closed for almost 40 months, reopened in 1989. What sealed the fate of the factory was the agitation against the release of untreated effluents into the Chaliyar. It turned out to be a mass environmental movement in the State.
The final closure of the factory took place on June 30, 2001. But, the Gwalior Rayons High School functioned till 2002. Mavoor then had mixed social culture with children from various States and from different districts in Kerala attending the school.
Maybe the existing town would have transformed into a major industrial hub for various activities, if the factory had not closed. But what does the future hold for the uninhabited land? Nobody knows. Successive governments considered at least nine project proposals for utilising the land. But nothing has come off, though.
Perhaps the authorities care not a whit about saving the abandoned estate from the fate of being left to be like the allegorical windswept Macondo immortalised by Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.
(MALABAR MAIL is a weekly column by The Hindu’s correspondents that will reflect Malabar’s life and lifestyle)