MADURAI: The Temple City is a tyre manufacturing hub what with big players like TVS Srichakra boasting of a huge facility here. But of late, it has gained notoreity as a production centre for illegal tyre tubes.
That more than a dozen companies in the district are rolling out tubes, even in the era of tubeless tyres, catering to the needs of two-wheeler and three-wheeler riders without the mandatory BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) certification is enough proof for the thriving illegal market.
A rough estimate reveals that 85 lakh tubes, both ISI and non-ISI, are manufactured every month in the country, of which Madurai’s share alone is pegged at 25 lakh non — ISI tubes. A few companies are operating at Manaparai in Tiruchy, Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh and Hyderabad in Telangana. Gujarat, industry sources say, is the frontrunner in illegal tube production.
In Madurai, enforcement agencies, BIS and District Industries Centre (DIC), are looking the other way, causing not only a huge loss to the exchequer but also putting riders’ safety at risk.
Tubes are manufactured using butyl rubber and natural rubber. While butyl, a synthetic rubber, is imported from countries like Japan, US, Russia and China, natural rubber is procured from Kanniyakumari and Kerala. A majority of companies use butyl considering its durability and other smart features.
The dozen companies in question are allegedly manufacturing tubes using natural rubber (NR) which, if made adhering to BIS norms would cost at least 10 per cent higher than butyl tubes.
“To produce non-ISI tube, these companies use 70 per cent of reclaimed NR and only 30 per cent fresh natural rubber. Here is where they score over the legal manufacturers who use 70 per cent of butyl and 30 per cent reclaimed butyl which costs Rs 83 per kg as against a mere Rs 28 per kg of reclaimed NR,” says G Ramanathan, CEO of Sunrise Tyres and Tubes.
Though no match in quality, the illegal NR tube at Rs 40 (manufacturing cost) rules the roost, whereas the ISI-butyl tube at Rs 140 loses the race. When it comes to the retail market, the illegal tube is sold at Rs 200 per piece and the legal one at Rs 250.
“The production in our manufacturing unit at Hindupur in Andhra Pradesh has taken a severe hit because of price factor. We produce about 1000 tubes per month against the capacity of 1.5 lakh,” Ramanathan laments.
Stressing the need to buy certified natural rubber, he says it should be tested in laboratory before use to meet BIS standards according to which the elongation of the NR tube should be 650 per cent and thickness 3 mm. The illegal tube, he claims, could be elongated up to 300 per cent and measures only 1.7 mm in thickness.
Similarly, specifications including permeability (duration of holding air) and ageing properties (withstanding heat at 100-105 degree Celsius) could never be matched by non-ISI tubes.
Yet, illegal tubes make it to the shelves of many automobile and vulcanizing shops due to ‘unimaginable’ cheaper rate. Riders are ignorant that the illegal tube when gets punctured could not be vulcanized mostly; it requires replacement for which these shops use the illegal tubes again.
Though the BIS Act, 2016, provides for prosecuting violators, BIS in Chennai seems not to address the grievances of manufacturers. “It is keen on inspecting only the licensed units. It charges Rs 1 per tube from us for the ISI mark, while turning a blind eye to non-ISI tube manufacturers,” Ramanthan rues.
Echoing him, Jayaraman, a tyre tube manufacturer, says following the BIS specifications in producing NR tubes is not easy because the rules are stringent. A legal dispute with the enforcement agency is pending before Madras High Court for relaxation of standards for NR tubes.
It is claimed that of the dozen companies, all of which have mushroomed only in the last 6-7 years, 10 are purely illegal and the remaining two are partially illegal, meaning they produce both ISI and non-ISI tubes.
As regards the accusations levelled against the BIS, Kishore Kumar, Scientist F and the head of its engineering division for Tamil Nadu, says their focus is only on ISI products. “We ensure that BIS-certified manufacturers produce quality goods. However, we will step up vigil to prevent misuse of ISI mark, if any,” he said.
The BIS southern region too has its own limitations. The limited mechanism comes in its way of monitoring the companies spread across the state.
DIC General Manager S Santhakumar said the tyre tube does not come under his purview as it does not figure in the list of products on which they keep tabs.