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Italy boost for ‘graveyard’ Singur

- Bologna-headquartered chemical firm to inaugurate factory on Wednesday

Singur, Feb. 10: An Italy-based chemical company will produce insecticides in Singur, the plan unfolding a day after the Hooghly pocket was described as a “graveyard” by former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in his Brigade speech.

Endura Fine Chemicals, headquartered in Bologna, Italy, decided on Singur after exploring options in Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Singur was the site of the the Nano project before land acquisition protests prompted the Tatas to shift the plant to Gujarat in 2008.

“We were typically looking for sites in Gujarat, Vadodara and Maharashtra for our factory. We had applied for a licence to the Union ministry of agriculture for manufacturing insecticides. But we failed to get one. So, we were thinking of what to do when we came across a company called Manaksia, which has the requisite licence and a factory in Singur. We decided to purchase the licence from them and rent their land for our factory,” said Cosimo Franco, the managing director of Endura.

Aura Chemicals, the trading arm of Endura, bought Manaksia’s subsidiary, Solex Chemicals, along with the licence. It then set up a factory on the rented land of Manaksia with an investment of $4 million (Rs 25 crore). The company plans to manufacture two kinds of Pyrethroids, D-Trans-allethriu and prallethriu, used for killing mosquitoes and flies.

“We are preparing for the inauguration day after tomorrow (Wednesday),” said Giuliano Zambonin, process development manager of the firm.

The inaugural programme will be attended by Becharam Manna, the junior minister for agriculture and local MLA who led land acquisition agitation in 2008.

Italian consul general Cesare Bieller, company president Marzio Tozzi and Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini are scheduled to attend, too.

“It’s good that Endura is here and is realising the potential of Bengal. The companies that have come will have a good experience working here. They will pave the way for others to come here. Endura is a reputable company with good technical knowledge. It is sensitive to the local markets and will include local people in its operations,” said Bieller.

So how has the experience been so far? “So far so good,” said managing director Franco. “I didn’t know about Singur but knew about Tata. I had read something about the agitation here. To come to Singur and manage everything is complicated. We became proactive when we realised that coming to Singur was our best option.

“We were prepared to take the risk as the driving force was to find new markets. Thanks to this project, we discovered the potential of Bengal. In the 20 years that I have come to India, I can see the difference between the western and eastern India. The Indian and British culture persist here, but not in the west of India. Mumbai and Shanghai may well be the same place. But we like to be here because people here are reliable,” said Franco.

The factory intends to start full operations by the year-end. “We are very positive about the market. Johnson, Reckitt-Benckiser and Godrej are our major customers,” the managing director said.

In Italy, Endura has been developing, manufacturing and selling household and public health insecticides for over 50 years.

It is the largest manufacturer of piperonyl butoxide (PBO), used in mosquito repellents. It recently acquired the patent to synthetically manufacture this product. At present, Endura imports PBO to India through Aura.

“India has a huge market and the only way to sell here is to produce it here,” said Franco. Apart from Italy, Endura operates a factory in China with a local partner.

Currently, the Singur plant will produce 4 tonnes of insecticides a month and the production will vary according to demand, said Zambonin, the firm’s process developing manager.

The company can expand its capacity by changing the technology. “We have started production. We are producing small quantities, operating in a single shift. Soon we will hire and employ a total of 30 people here. But we are right now facing difficulty in hiring people with the right qualifications. We are looking for chemists and people with a background in operations,” said the official.

“We know India well. India is very important for us. We need to be here as competition is multiplying elsewhere. We are among the top three companies in the world who make active ingredients for outsourcing insecticides.

“If you buy halogens, coils, for mosquitoes, there is 20 to 22 per cent probability that the active ingredients are made by Endura. So in 2010, we started to apply for registration in India but we discovered Manaksia, which had its property in Singur, and that is how we came here. It was not a matter of choice. I didn’t know anything about Bengal,” said Franco.

“It’s important to watch and analyse the market. But the approach here should be one of patience and we should work hard. I think Indians and Italians have something in common. We both specialise in complicating easy things.”