Reckoning 61 years’ history of Janakpur Cigarette Factory

Voices are being raised to revive the ‘dead’ Janakpur Cigarette Factory (Jachukali). Ramnarit Sharma of Manara Sishawa-4 in Mahottari district is a living witness to the rise and fall of the factory.

The oldest factory that offered a part of its contribution to the country’s economy has a history to reckon.

Following the restoration of democracy, in 2016 BS, the government led by then the Nepali Congress President BP Koirala had envisioned the establishment of the factory.

The credit for making the plan has gone to Ram Narayan Mishra, the Minister for Industry and Commerce in the then government. But the plan could not materialise as the national politics took a turn after the party-less Panchyat system was imposed on 15 December, 1960.

Many had doubted whether the plan of establishing the factory would end under the rule of the Panchyat system. However, the plan started taking a shape and being implemented. In that course, some employees were appointed and Sharma was one of them.

Started on 15 July, 1961 as a storekeeper, he retired 32 years later as the director of the human resources division at the Factory.

On 23 November, 1962, then the Minister for Industry and Commerce Bedananda Jha laid the foundation stone for the project. Then the government took initiatives and the Government of Russia provided the financial and technical assistance for the project.

“There was a kind of disappointment due to restrictions on political parties. But when then King Mahendra inaugurated Jachukali on 12 January, 1965, it created new enthusiasms. Hundreds of people witnessed the moment of pleasure and joy.

Unlike today, projects would be completed on time then. The project was over within two years,” Sharma recalled.

The project spanning around 33 bigha nine katthas of land in the present Janakpurdham Sub Metropolitan City-9 became the integral part of all citizens not only the property of the government.

“The factory with 50 years of history not only produced cigarettes but connected to the economy of the country. It linked with the life and breath of the entire population, and Madhes in particular. The factory is like a ‘skeleton’ now,” he lamented.

32 years of oblivion and memory

It seems like today that he laughed and played in the courtyard of the factory, and spent 32 years of his fruitful life. He is a witness to the factory since the beginning.

He remembered every moment of its birth and demise. So, he is closely connected and has love for this place. As a result of this love, he built a house near the entrance of the factory. But now, it feels bad for him seeing it turning into ruins.

The memory of past haunts him seeing the skeleton of the institution that once was a leader in the Nepali economy and earned praises at home and abroad. The past comes fresh, and the heart aches. “Oh! It feels like why I have to stay here,” he lamented.

Jachukali in heart of people

Then the media made the headlines reading ‘There is lack of cigarette in Humla/Jumla’ just like that of ‘There is lack of rice and medicines’ now.

And it would create chaos. When a phone rang from then departmental minister and the high leadership in the Industry Ministry, there was a kind of frenzy among the director general and employees of the factory.

It may be due to lack of awareness, many Nepali people then would smoke. Jachukali delivered its products to then 75 districts to address the increasing demand for cigarettes through its 105 branch offices across the country.

With authorised capital of Rs 80 million, and issued and paid up capital of over Rs 4.8 million, it would produce 2 billion cigarette sticks daily.

Its production later increased to 3 billion cigarette sticks a day. It would sell cigarettes under the brands of ‘Deurali’, ‘Yak’ and ‘Gaida’. The production and the market were good. But it could not keep up with the increasing demand due to lack of road networks. The East-West Highway was not constructed then.

In the beginning, its products were supplied to main cities of Nepal like Kathmandu, Pokhara, Nepalgunj, Mahendranagar and Dhangadhi through Indian routes of Jaynagar and Raxaul, and Birgunj in Nepal. Railway would be used to transport cigarettes from Janakpur to Raxaul and Birgunj.

After the construction of the East-West Highway, it supplied its products through its 10 containers. The factory had around 2,900 employees, permanent employees, contractors and daily wagers. It was a matter of pride and prestige being associated with the factory.

“We would purchase raw tobaccos worth around Rs 40 million. Farmers would grow tobacco in places including Mahendranagar, Dhalkebar, Godar and Mirchaiya. Raw tobacco leaves would also be imported from neighbouring India as the domestic production was not sufficient,” he said.

The transactions would be done through Rastriya Banijya Bank before shifting to Nepal Bank Limited. Nepal Bank Limited had opened its branch near the factory to facilitate the transactions, according to him.

Under the social corporate responsibility, the factory opened a hospital and a school for its employees and their children, and provided money for the upgrading religious places in Janakpur. It also managed electricity in the public place, and established a sports club, he said.

Under the strict ‘discipline’ of the Panchyat system, the factory ran smoothly, and its employees were punctual and disciplined.

The company’s employees and workers would be ready to work when a siren rang at 6 am. The punctuality and discipline set by the factory had brought the whole Janakpur in order. “It feels that sound is still ringing in my ears,” he said.

Following the restoration of democracy in 2046 BS, many had expected that then leadership would care of the factory that connected with the dream of the first people’s elected democratic government.

But unfortunately, politics entered the factory, taking everything upside-down. Its employees became members of political parties, and new appointments would be based on the political influences.

Sharma felt that all of a sudden, there were changes in the voice, behaviours and manner of Amrit Nath Regmi, then first general manager of the factory (following the restoration of democracy in 2046 BS).

Rules and regulations of the factory were violated, and people associated with it started operating it as per their wish. It became the place where those close to the people in power would be appointed.

The factory, which was in the hearts of people, made the Nepali economy dynamic and became the reliable foundation for the livelihood of people, halted its production from the Nepali month of Chaitra in 2068 BS, and completely closed on 4 July, 2013.

Following the closure of the factory, on 4 July, 2013, the government led by then Chair of Council of Ministers Khilraj Regmi decided to layoff the staffs.

As per the decision, the company’s 758 permanent employees, and around 200 contractors and daily wagers were released from work.

Now the factory and its periphery have been used by the government of Madhes Province. The Office of Chief Minister and Council of Ministers, and other administrative offices have been operating from here.

A section of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies looks after the dilapidated structures and machines belonging to the factory while security personnel have provided security.

Instead of making an institution with a history a centre of politics, it is appropriate to make it a hub of entrepreneurship, viewed Sharma.



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