Cotina Radio:This is Akhtar talking; Lokesh
" I have passed all my life at Kotina. I used to tell my wife that if we
have a son I will accommodate him somewhere here. After all at this
threshold of forty it is difficult to look for work afresh."
When he lost his job of a radio technician to which he had contributed
the best years of his life it was hardly difficult to read the emotions
chasing each other on his face and in his eyes. However, he kept talking
in detail about the history of his technique, skill and pains enjoying
his tea. I had a chance encounter in a Union office in the sprawling JJ
colony in Seemapuri with him who had risen from being a mere helper to
become a master.
Akhtar who has crossed the 37th milestone of life stays along with his
family in a Resettlement Colony at Seemapuri since 1967. When the hut of
his father in Yamuna Bazar was razed Akhtar was hardly a year old.
Speaking about this hoary tradition of levelling JJ in Delhi , mother of
Akhtar Ali says," Government made us roofless with promises of a 22
sq.ft plot but brought us to this open ground out of the city and dumped
us here. We had not been able ever to gather our things, even take down
the boards for keeping the household utensils when they brought
everything down. They loaded us in a tempo and dumped on this open
ground in the evening. " Many families have spent the following 3-4 days
in the open. Now-a-days this open ground is a sprawling JJ colony of old
Seemapuri. Akhar has also a two-story house in the lane directly
opposite the Jama Masjid, Seemapuri about 10-15 houses inside. He stays
there along with his mother, wife, a daughter and the family of his
Hardly had he reached fourteen he thought of finding some work weighed
down by the consideration of family responsibilities. In 1980-81 he came
across a man at his Uncle's place where he occasionally visited. This
man ran a small unit turning out 20-25 radio sets and send these for
sale to the shop of his sister's husband at Kolkata. He purchased the
spares from the Lajpatrai Market and himself did the assembly work.
After completing one order and receiving payment for it alone that he
took up another. Keeping constantly in touch with him Akhtar Ali
resolved to take up the same work and started as an apprentice with him.
The arrival of coloured TV and VCR in India was years' away then. The
radio was becoming quite popular. There was a wide scope for radio
marketing from villages to towns. Big brands like Philips and Murphy had
a stranglehold over the market. However, their price bracket was quite
high severelly delimiting its market. During the 80s the local
manufacturing played a decisive role in taking the radio to all classes
of people. During these days the learning of assembling opened
employment avenues. A number of institutes big and small had come up for
technical training from place to place. You could learn the assembly
work either from any teacher or else at these institutes. Akhtar was
hardly in a position to undergo a diploma course and had to make do with
the /ustad. /This time it coincided with the hectic preparations which
were going on in Delhi for the coming Asiad. Construction work was going
on apace. This attracted workers from villages in the bordering States.
Most of them came to settle down in JJ colonies This was the population
which just for ensuring its cussed existence subsequently entered as
cheap labour in the local manufacturing activities.
From 1981-84 Akhtar kept learning the skills at the feet of Zulkarnain.
Side by side he kept testing his skills on the nicities of production.
In the meantime Zulkarnain who was expert in the most intricate details
of production started visiting a local unit Kotina Electricals. The
company offered Zulkarnain an opportunity to work with them. According
to Akhtar they said," Come over and we will pay you handsomely."
Zulkarnain-e-Ali started working with them in 1984. Since then he has
been working there as n engineer. Neither is Kotina ready to leave him
nor he Kotina. His income there is more than any worker or engineer.
This Engineer No.I gives designs for all the new circuits coming to the
unit. When a IC with a new value comes into the market he designs a
circuit and runs the piece to test its output to find out which PF is
needed and where, what is the resistance required etc. Sometime after
joining Kotina he closed down his own unit and took up Akhtar on his
Akhtar Ali started working on a piece-rate basis with Kotina Radio when
Delhi was burning in the anti-Sikh riots consequent upon the
assasination of Indira Gandhi in 1984. Kotina was neither an old or
popular brand then. The owner had put it up in 1981-82. The owner lived
in Shahdara area in a two room tenement with a tile roof along with his
family. Upto 1983 Akhtar's employer carried the ready goods to Lajpatrai
Market on a cycle. He turned out 25-30 sets a day and kept them in the
market. The production has reached to a daily average of 50-60 sets by
1984. Initially he had an agreement with the shop there where he took
all his goods. Towards the end of 1985 he himself hired a shop there.
Sometime after this he went in for the boxes put up over the shops in
the Lajpatrai Market purchasing one. However, this was brought down by
government as an illegal construction. After that he hired another box
from where he began marketing. However since the 80s a vast
trasformation has come over in the stand of the Lajpatrai Market. Akhtar
highlighted some tendencies revealed in these changes.
The constant disturbance and the continuous changes straightway
adversely affects the production. The need to go in for new forms of
sets and its internal wiring is the outcome of this process. Secondly,
even if their goods are sold at the Market they receive orders directly
at the factory both from the city as well as outside. The customer asked
for designs according to his requirements and the production proceeds
accordingly. Out of station parties have to be despatched the goods in
cartons of varying capacities and forward them so that their
representative could collect them from the station. Thirdly, one can get
not only readymade goods but also spare parts in the Lajpatrai Market.
People purchase these spares, take them to their towns where they get
these assembled and sell them. Most of the spares for Kotina come from
Lajpatrai Market. Kotina has direct business relations with other parts
of the city and other States with the shopkeepers who exhibit their
wares and sell them to the consumers.
Remembering his attraction for radio Akhtar says," I don't know who
invented radio. When I came in this line they only knew that Philips and
Murphy manufactures sets. We had seen only seen these which resembled
big boxes one could see in shops these days. There were tubes inside.
They were known as High Band.If you had an occasion to peep at the back
of the TV you would have noticed that the picture tube is elongated
towards the rear. The radio tubes were similar and a set contained 3-4
inch long 4 to 6 tubes. The battery system was not there in them at the
time. ..When we started production these were small two-band
radios--medium and short wave." In 1994 Philips and Japanese brands
became 4-bands on introduction of FM. The local production of FM sets
began in 1996 when we at the Kotina went in for it."
Initially the output of stations in radio kept varying -sometime high
,sometimes low. It was necessary to change the band, adjust the setting
of the anttenna suitably. Today all these things have been epitomised in
the IC dispensation with anttena nor the constant shifting from here to
When Akhtar joined this work people had a liking for listening to radio
news. Now-a-days it is the predelection for songs and new programmes on
Radio Mirchi. The people in the rural area go in for BBC London news and
Radio Ceylone. Akhtar says that the credit for expansion in the market
for radios goes to these two channels. Kotina is comparatively in a
better position now-a--days not only in market but in the local
production and its sale. It is a well-known brand among
consumers(especially the limited-income sector).It has a good market in
different cities ,districts, small town to villages in Kolkata and UP
regions. This industry launched with insufficient investment whose owner
himself was a technician has not only held its own for the last 24 years
but has also improved its returns. There are many aspects of this matter
which helped this outcome.
Referring to its staying power in market Akhtar says that Kotina is a
good invesment when compared to its price and quality, almost able to
hold its own against Philips. Whenever Philips marketed a new model the
owner would get one. It was thoroughly analysed ,"We used to copy down
its circuit on paper. After brining it on paper we used to copy the
design on the wiring plate. After this a radio set was made using it and
verify where any technical lapse has remained. Sometimes the lapse is in
earthing . In the copying of the circuit some lines might have been
drawn rather thin or thicker necesssitating its rejection. However , it
has been observed that after slowly resetting it, it becomes quite
regular. It is only then that it is put on the production belt. "Similar
the radio comes in various sizes 9, 12 or 18 inches etc. There are
differences on account of voltage and band. Radios with 4 1/2 and 6
volts are also made out. Similarly, in the beginning band radios were
made. After FM came one more band was added to made it 3. Subsequently
there was a further addition of 2 bands in FM, along with one additional
band for TV. Now-a-days they come in 4 and 5 bands.
Most of the technician work on piece-rate basis. Akhtar also worked on
the same basis for over 18-19 years. When he started work the rate was
Re.1.25 per wiring, it went by 10 paise in 1986 bringing it to
Re.1.35.This prevailed for four years when in 1990 it rose marginally to
Re.`1.50. The current rate ranges from Rs.3 to Rs.5, FM Rs.5, 2 band Rs.3.
Except for packers, marketers and transports all other in the unit
worked on the same i.e.piece rate basis. There are three grade in the
manufacturing activities-wireman, fitter and tester. Secondly others who
fashion the circuit design and do final checking. It is noteworthy that
all the workers ,irrespective of the nature of their work got paid
similarly i.e.Rs.3/-The maximum monthly emolument of packers, marketrs
etc was Rs.4000/- per months, though in most cases it hovered between
Rs.1200 to Rs.1500.However, the income of those working in any of the
three grades on piece rate basis differed substantially from them,
provided they got work.
Actually the wireman who undertakes wiring and soldering of plates could
turn out only 25 to 30 plates daily. In comparison the fitter could fit
out 50 sets on an average per day. An engineer could easily carry out
tuning and checking of 100 sets daily quite easily. Thus their daily
income varied from Rs. 75, rs.150 and Rs.300. Akhtar Ali feels ," It is
the wireman whose work is the most strenous.Sitting steady for hours
with concentration can be most tiresome but fetches the lowest income."
In such units there is a definite procedure of work, showing the
division of labour quite clearly. However, the piece rate worker has to
take many responsibilities . For example, should any lapse be revealed
in a set during the final checking it has to be set right by that worker
who has originally done the wiring. Generally the goods of two types may
be referred back - one is due to internal lapse and another is setting
right sets which have come back for replacement. As making good the
lapse is the responsibility of the concerned worked but piece rate
payment envisages there can be only a single payment once for working on
a set, no separate or additional payment is made for the additional
burden of setting the set right. However, where the daily production is
of hundres of set and the wiremans and fitters may have different
engineers how could it be possible to correlate a set to an specific
individual? It is imperative to know this as in its absence how could it
be possible to know who is an efficient worker and who is not? All the
three -owner,engineer and technician --should know this. Consequently if
a set comes back for some shortcoming to avoid that one has to slog for
somebody elses's lapse he makes a sign on the back of the plate or put a
cut on it with the soldering iron or else he may put up a different
patch on it. This creats a distinct identity of the technician and the
engineer and assists them in ensuring that they attend only to their own
It is noteworthy that this locally manufactured goods have different
users who cannot afford to go in for branded radioes. The cheap sets are
meant for them.Where a 4 1/2 band Philips radio sets is priced at Rs.
870/- and 6 volve at Rs.970/- the corresponding local set comes in a
mere one to two hundred chips. Consequently it is necessary for the
manufacturers to ensure that their investment is low and turnout is more
For this purpose he has to watch the market response to new technique,
new parts and their price.Akhtar says,"In Lajpat Rai market you could
set with FM ,with TV et all can be had for Rs.100 on the footpath or the
small side bazars What the local manufacturers do is put up a IC and the
set starts working ,FM will operate.The Chinese ICs have all the
functions in them." At this price not only the sellers but even the
manufacturers can get a handsome margin.Even after defray all expences
Akhtar's factory owners gets Rs. 50 per set..At present his daily
turnout and sale is a thousand sets.Small shopkeepers who turn out sets
with non-descript labels work on a lesser margin of Rs.20 to Rs.
25/-.For this purpose it is necessary that one should know everything
about every ware offered in the market. Akhtar says, "Where one
shopkeeper charges Re.1.50 for a spare part another offers it for
Re.1.25 One has to find out what is the different between the
two.Initially Kotina employed most of the spare parts of Philips make in
its set. Slowly with the growing competetion it made some changes. Thus
initially Philips made gang was fitted in its set which came for about
Rs.13 .Now it is some duplicate resembling Philips gant and costs
Rs.8.86. Now-a-days the demand for FM is so much that pelple fit even a
gang worth Rs.4.70..Not that the spare parts have become cheaper but
that their duplicates are coming in the market. Every original has its
duplicate. Now even there is dupliate of the duplicate . "This variation
in prices is quite important for both the local manufactures and sellers
comparatievely reducing its dependence on big capital.
Once its brand was established in the local market Kotina started
supplying goods to various other places. There was keen competetion in
the market.Many a cheap brands had established themselves in the market.
In this contest everybody studies the market and resorts to marginal
reduction in price.For covering this margin it also introduces some
small change in its produce. As Akhtar says,"If any buyer asked for
price reduction the owner would say that it is impossible to reduce it
even by a couple of rupees. However, if you persist I would have bring
out another edition. If the customer would nervously ask if he would
change the produce the owner would reassure that it would not be so. He
would just use a cheaper cover or body. However, these remained the same
and the place inside was deprived of some paraphernalia which would
affect the sound." Akhtar further adds, " This is imperative if one has
to survive in competetion e.g. cut down the margin according to the
demand necessitating the use of duplicate spares for original. If
anybody shoots past would forge ahrea. Nobody would pick up the loser"
When Akhtar started work there was an another company who brouht out
radioes under the brand name Al Cone. There were yet other units also
but Al Cone enjoyed quite a good market. It had a factory in Shahdara
and also a shop in Lajpatrai Market. This was an established local brand
of the time.Kotina had just started production and in order to
established itself it took on the brand head on. For some time there was
a keen competetion on price and quality in the market.During this period
Al Cone discontinued production and started getting goods manufactured
from other small-scale units, affixed the Al Cone sticker and
market.Thus, the product was Al Cone only in name and the entire product
came from outside. Now, Kotina expanded work in its unit, expanded the
facory, brought out quality goods,increased work-strength and secured a
strong presence in the market.
Evidently there was keen price competetion in the market,especially when
many units were presenting identical goods. Kotina faced the same
experience. It is significant that when Kotina established its name in
the market after taking into account the technical nicities of Philips
new people were bound to jump into the market for competing with them.
After all it is a matter of changing a single word.Akhtar tells, " One
man named his produce Motina . It looked just like Kotina but the goods
inside were all inferior. Now everybody does not peer at the name and
takes it that it was Kotina. Similarly they just replaced the ' i ' in
Philips with an' e '.and markets the goods by just changing one single
word. Neither is this very difficult. Lajpatrai is a market where number
plate of any type can be had. They would change any company's monogram
just marginally enough as not to impinge on the customer's attention.
Even if caught he would still insist that its produce is quite
different. Our label is different. Our sound is different. This and
that. Here he would emphasise these minor variations. " Something like
this happened with Kotina also. The sale of Motina brand affected the
sales of Kotina.He drove away the Motina brand goods from the market and
also its factory workers. However, Akhtar pleads," But Montina was
marketing goods under a different name." The age of Competetion will
always rule in the market
Akhtar after passing through all these problem picked up all the
intricacies of a production unit and as always happenes also taught up
some new unskilled recruits.Once he started work in Kotina he always
continued to be there never even thinking of going elsewhere or started
his own production.He started to work there as if the unit belonged to
him. He never thought it important enough to think about the potential
closing down or his being driven out. Suddenly...
On 1st February 2002 Aljtar as usual reached the unit on his old
co-travelled, the cycle, negotiating the lanes of Seemapuri, crossing
busy thoroughfares. He god busy in work. He had no premonition that this
would be an unforgettable day for him. He had a heart attack in the unit
the same day. When the attack came on he was with his old tutor engineer
with whom he had been associated as a help for the last one year trying
to pick up some remnant pieces of skill. When this happened it was the
last month of the period. Next he would started working as engineer in
his own right.Akhtar sayss,"On the day the tutor had asked me to test
the tuning of some sets and finalise them. This involved frequest going
up and down I was on the occilator tuning . Suddeny there was a strange
feeling in my chest as if somebody was bursting blows on me from behin.
I started perspiring and lie down there itself on the slab. But the pain
and panic kept increasing. The foreman Tipu and some other boys picked
me up and carried me to a doctor."
A heart attack when only just 35. He was in the hospital for a few days
and then returned home. As there was even still no improvement the
doctor advised him complete rest for three months. However, on account
of the long-drawn out treatment as well as household expences only led
to mounting debts. It was very difficult to carry on and he returned to
work earlier. However, the owner asked him to work at home and not to
come there.During this time the two candidates under training in the
same unit would bring plates and carry back the wired plates. When there
was some improvement in health after three months he went back to the
factory . He would also bring some work at home and also taught the
technique to his wife.His wife picked up the wiring work quite nicely.
She would attend to the domestic work as also plate wiring. This went
on. His wife says " I had began working as we had to repay the loans Now
I feel that I was just sitting idly at home. Now I could bring in some
income from this work.."
After 2000 quite a change has come over in the atmosphere of the city.
An exercise to make Paris of Delhi was under way. There was a vigorous
drive for demolition of JJ colonies.Now after the 1996 orders of the
Supreme Court closing down 168 bigger factories in 1996 the small-scale
industries were now in the queue.There was an unsuccessful attempt in
2001 to shift the small-scale units to conforming zones.The legal action
for relocation had begun. However, neither the owners nor the workers
approved of going down to Bawana and Narela.
Kotina Electronics had also the premonition of danger and in
2002.instead of going down to Bawan ,put up a Rs.3-crore plant in
Tronika City in UP abutting on Delhi.A unit which had stated with
marginal capital nearabout in 1982 had put up a 3-crore plant in
2002.Evidently, it was difficult to contine work during the process of
shifting to a new place. They otherwise also felt that a transfer to
Bawana was a losing proposition. Consequently, slowly within a year upto
the middle of 2002 Kotina shifted all its activities to the Tronika
City. The tecnnicians and workers were directly affected by this. By the
end of 2003 all the piece rate workers had been removed including Akhar.
For Akhtar already struck by the shifting this was unimaginable. He has
this to say about the development," Now-a-days the owners are passing
through this phase.Even those whose factory was shifted and others who
had not joined this bandwagon. "
The opinions of Akhtar Ali and his colleagues about this discharge from
the factories and shifting of the units are quite interesting.They feel
that this is a diplomatic action of the government . It wanted to shift
the factories to such places where it could keep a complete track of its
activities and income. Factories in residential areas only declae half
of its income to government e.g against a production of 100 units only
50 are declared.
It is noteworty that Kotna has not totally cut off work at the original
place.However, both its nature and volume has undergone changes. Only a
couple o engineers and some boys are working there. The wiring is got
done from outside against orders as they were entrusting to Akhtar Ali
at home. The unit only attends to fitting and testing whereupon the
goods are packed and despatched out.
Consequently, two changes could clearly be observed in the Tronika City
plant. For one out of the 40-45 orignal workers less than half have
remained there. They have mostly been replaced by young girls. The other
is a transormation in technique. .Earlier the soldering work was done
manually . There is a machine for this in the Tronika City. Akthar
remarks, "Soldering machine has taken away employment of many workers."
For workers living in Seemapuri and the trans-Yamuna region may not find
it difficult as well as uneconomical to travel to Tronika City for work.
Akhtar feels,"This is a winning situation for the ownes. He had to pay
from 75 to Rs.300 from wireman to engineer daily. He now employs girls
there who are paid Rs.1000 to Rs.2000 per month. Thus even after paying
Rs.50 per day he saves Rs.25/-. " In new units all the girls are
assembled at one place ,given plates for wiring. On a average a girls
wires almost 50 plates per day.After this the soldering is got done
mechanically. There is the engineer there for the testing and checking
work. Akhar says, " Even at the rate of Rs.3 per day he is paying at the
minimum Rs. 100 less.At the rates prevailing in the old units he would
have had to pay more."
Akhtar feels that besides these transformations in the techniques and
mehods of radio production there could be some other reasons behind the
removal of him and his colleagues.It could be some demands which they
had put before the owner, though till then they were not members of any
Mazdoor Union.Even then they had three demands.
One was of water The factory was on the upper floor and the ground floor
was the residence of the owner. There was no separate arangements for
the factory workers for drinking water. Akhtar says, " Water was quite a
problem during summer.We asked him to entrust the work of providing
water to any salaried employees. However , he paid no attention to this
Anothr was for increasing the piece rate. He has been paying the Re.3
rate for quite some time whereas the market rate was Rs.5.
Third related to time. If a large order was received the technicians had
to work da y and night for which no allowance for food etc. was
available. While on duty they had to spend from their own pockets for
food. In addition they had also asked for Fund and Bonus.
Most of the workers would prevail upon Akhtar to take up the matter with
the owner.," You are an old hand .You talk to him." Perhaps they felt
that the owner would not avoid a request from an old worker. However,
shortly after this the owner had told them that ince factories were
being shifted they better find out some alternative work.
However, Akhtar Ali who had already lost his job decided to approach the
Union against this decision.I came across him in the Union office. His
case against the forcible removal is going on in the Labour Court.
After all this long voyage from Radio Ceylone to Radio Marchi it was
just possible that with the experience of 20 years and armed with all
the intricies of radio work he would have started his own business with
a small capitaal. During the couple of initial meetings with him I had a
feeling that sooner or later he would think over the matter.Akhtar did
think but quite differently which was rather disturbing for me after
knowing his odyssy of life. When I asked him he says, "I would do radio
work only if I get work at Kotina . Otherwise whatever I would do quite
away from this line. Even now he has not finally decided what he has to
do for his future. According to him the radio is no more as paying as is
necessary for the present times. For bringing out a radio using new
spare requires immence capital. It could be around five lakhs according
to his estimate
Akhar Ali who had devoted the best years of his life on radio technique
new a days runs,hold your heart, a fruit juice handcart in Semapuri for
meeting his household expences and defraying the court expenses.
(translated by Subhash Gatadey )