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National - Elections 2004 Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

The business of `black-marking' voters



MAKING AN IMPRESSION... MPVL employees in Mysore engaged in the manufacture of voters ink for the general elections.

R. Krishna Kumar

Mysore

It is a `black mark' that does not erase easily. When millions turn out for the greatest exercise in democracy in the world during April and May, one company can take pride in the fact that it has left an impression on the voting public. Literally. The Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd (formerly known as Mysore Lac and Paints or MYLAC) specialises in the manufacture of indelible black ink used to mark the voters who exercise their franchise.

The State-owned public sector unit is the only such ink manufacturer recognised by the Election Commission of India. The black marks that the ink leaves on the fingertips of voters ensures the sanctity of the electoral exercise; there is no other way of identifying whether a voter has exercised his franchise or not.

The formula is a closely guarded secret. MPVL, which also manufactures paints and varnishes, takes `time off' from the routine production of paints to switch over to the production of voters ink. Currently, 79 employees are on overdrive, working round-the-clock to meet the demand for the black ink.

M.V.Hemanth Kumar, MPVL's Managing Director, says that after orders are placed by the Election Commission, the black ink is handed over to the Chief Electoral Officers, who in turn ensure their distribution across the length and breadth of the country. For the coming elections, MPVL has secured orders for the manufacture of 16.5 lakh phials, each containing 5.5. ml of ink. One such phial can "black mark'' nearly 350 voters. The company also produces 1.5 lakh phials of 7.5 ml capacity, each of which can be used to "black mark" 500 voters.

The secret formula has been approved by national scientific establishments like the National Physical Laboratory and is not easy to replicate. The ink is subject to thorough scrutiny and tests before it is packed, sealed in crates and dispatched to different States under security. As the largest State, Uttar Pradesh receives the maximum quantity and requires nearly 2.75 lakh phials. The smallest amount goes out to Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. MPVL's expertise has attracted international attention and the company has supplied voters ink to South East Asian nations such as Thailand and Singapore and African countries such as Nigeria and South Africa.

Although an estimated Rs 4 crores worth of ink will be sold for the current elections, the profit margins are nothing to crow about. "More than 80 per cent of the total orders have been dispatched and we can comfortably meet the stipulated target way ahead of elections'', says Mr. Kumar. Established in 1937 by Nalvudi Krishnaraja Wadiyar, the company, then known as MYLAC, was identified to manufacture indelible voters ink for the third general election in 1962. It has been a monopoly ever since.

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