India’s Alang Bazaar feels pinch

ALANG, GUJARAT // For several kilometres on the approach to the ship-breaking yards of Alang, shops and stalls line the stretch of road selling the array of goods retrieved from scrapped ships, ranging from crockery and sun loungers to lifejackets and even lifeboats.

An entire industry has grown around the area’s ship recycling sector and it has become known as Alang Bazaar.

For years, these businesses managed to do a roaring trade. Word that a major cruise ship had docked in Alang to be scrapped would draw hotel and restaurant owners from miles around, as they looked to furnish their establishments with bargain-priced goods.

But business in Alang Bazaar has dwindled in recent months because far fewer ships are arriving because of lower steel prices and a soft rupee, which has made scrapping ships financially unviable for ship-breaking firms.

As a result, shops are unable to replenish their stock and draw customers.

Ramesh Bhai, 66, has no customers in his large shop and has not made a sale for days. He has hundreds of products — including compasses, ropes, oil, kitchen appliances — which he says he buys from traders who buy the goods from the ship-breaking companies.

“Business has been really bad for the past three months,” he says. He has had the shop for the past three years.

“I’d like to get out of the business but who is going to buy everything in here? I wouldn’t get my investment back.”

He says he has more than 2.5 million rupees (Dh138,000) tied up in the goods in his store.

A few kilometres along the road, Dilip Patel is in a similar quandary.

Eight months ago he took over a shop that sells parts from ships, including lights and navigation equipment. He thought he was getting a good deal because the owner was desperate to sell up, but now he says he believes he made a big mistake.

“I was a farmer before and I thought this business would be better,” Mr Patel says. “I thought I was going to make a profit but now I’m in a loss. If business doesn’t pick up I’ll have no choice but to go and work as a labourer.”

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Rebecca Bundhun

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