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Indelible ink company cashing in on Indian elections

Mysore Paints and Varnish Limited has held monopoly over supply of ink since 1962 and its revenues soar with every poll

Gulf News

New Delhi: Tomorrow, when millions turn out for the greatest exercise in democracy in the world, it is business time for a company producing a formulation that can help prevent fraudulent and multiple voting. It is a ‘black mark’ that does not erase easily, popularly known as indelible ink or voter’s ink.

In a vast and diverse country such as India, it has been a great challenge for the governments and the election commission to successfully hold and complete the process of general elections. In achieving this and to eliminate fake voting, the election commission introduced the use of indelible ink which, once applied, stays for about 20 days and cannot be removed by any chemical, detergent or oil. The ink is put on the left hand finger nail of the voter to denote he has exercised his franchise.

There is only one company — Mysore-based government-run Mysore Paints and Varnish Limited (MPVL)— which can take pride in the fact that it has left an impression on the voting public. Literally! While all political parties are busy working out strategies to woo voters, MPVL employees are working overtime. The formula of the ink is a closely guarded secret, one not easy to replicate.

According to sources in the Election Commission of India, the black mark that the ink leaves on the fingertips of voters ensures foolproof sanctity of the electoral exercise; there is no other way of identifying whether a voter has exercised his franchise or not.

In association with the Election Commission of India, the National Physical Laboratory, and the National Research Development Corporation, MPVL is the sole authorised supplier of indelible ink in India having an exclusive licence granted by the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC).

Reckoned to be the largest manufacturer of ink in Asia, the factory was established in 1937 by one Nalwudi Krishnaraja Wadiyar. Then known as Mysore Lac and Paint Works Limited, the company was identified to manufacture indelible voter ink for the third general election in 1962. It has been a monopoly ever since.

Specialising in manufacturing indelible ink, MPVL has been supplying this for parliamentary, assembly and local body elections in India since 1962. The company also manufactures other products such as chemical-resistant paints, enamels, primers, distempers, sealing wax, postage stamp cancellation, and polishes.

According of sources in the MPVL, one of the major customers for this ink in the country is the Election Commission of India which places orders based on the number of voters involved in the election. The ink is subject to thorough scrutiny and tests before it is packed, sealed in crates and dispatched to different states under security. The ink is supplied to the chief electoral officers who further distribute it to individual voting centres.

While maximum demand of about three lakh vials comes from Uttar Pradesh, the least number of vials is from Andaman and Nicobar Islands which need less than one thousand of them.

Apart from supplying indelible ink to Indian elections, MPVL has been exporting the ink to 35 countries across the world including Turkey, South Africa, Nigeria, Nepal, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, Burkina Faso, Canada, Togo, Sierra Leone, Malaysia and Cambodia.

In India, the indelible ink comes in different packages — a 5 millitres of ink in 10 ml bottle, 7.5 ml in 10 ml bottle, 20 ml in 30 ml bottle, 50 ml in 60 ml bottle and 80 ml in 100 ml bottle. Each vial or bottle of ink containing about 5 ml of the indelible ink can be applied on nearly 300 voters.

As a matter of fact, the company’s business is highly dependent on the Indian general election, and in a year when the elections are held, a significant increase in the revenue of the company is observed. In the financial year 2006–2007, the company earned profits of Rs18 million (about $300,000 today or Dh1.09 million). For the general elections held in India in the year 2004, the company supplied orders worth Rs40 million. It earned Rs12.8 million when it supplied ink to the general elections held in Cambodia in 2008.

Interestingly, the company has recently written to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) to increase the rate of the ink by two or three rupees per vial. The rates were revised in 1997 the last time. At that time, a vial which cost Rs13.50 was increased to Rs16. This year, there is every possibility of the CEC hiking the price following an increase in the rates of Silver Nitrate, one of the main chemicals used to manufacture the ink.