Nepa Limited, regarded as the first newsprint paper mill in India, was inaugurated in 1956. Situated in Nepanagar, an industrial township located in the Burhanpur district of Madhya Pradesh, Nepa Limited used to be the only newsprint production unit in the country. Closed in 2016; the mill resumed its commercial operations a few months ago. In an exclusive interview with Paper Mart, Commodore Saurav Deb (Retd), Chairman-cum-Managing Director, Nepa Limited talked about the revival journey and more.
“Paper is here to stay; it is an industry that can never die.”
Paper Mart: Tell us about the present status of Nepa and its new developments.
Saurav Deb: We restarted our plant on 23 August 2022 and started production on 5 October 2022. We are still streamlining and fine-tuning our processes to ensure that we give the best product to the market. After the modification, the production capacity of Nepa increased from 88,000 metric tonnes to 100,000 metric tonnes per annum. With the machines running at the optimum levels, the capacity might further go up.
We would be taking about a month more to be operational at full capacity. Once the final trials are completed, on-the-job training would be given by the vendors who have supplied new machines and equipment. At present, we are manufacturing newsprint, and soon we plan to enter the writing & printing paper segment as well. We have a new de-inking plant and the paper machines are refurbished, modernized, and automated. Hence, I think, we can make a major mark in the writing and printing segment.
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PM: Do you have any plans to add to your capacity soon?
SD: We have enough space and we might look at the expansion subsequently but right now, we are still taking baby steps. And I strongly believe when you take such a step, it should be a firm and sure-footed step. Currently, we are focused on meeting the market challenges and the competition. Till the time we don’t settle down on that sort of strategy, we can’t talk about adding new capacity. Moreover, it depends on the decision of the government. We have just come out of our revival plan.
“We have a new de-inking plant and the paper machines are refurbished, modernized, and automated.”
PM: What challenges did you face during the renovation of Nepa? Also, talk about the bottlenecks of the industry.
SD: Our paper machines are old – one is of 1950s vintage and the other is of 1960s vintage, and that is a challenge. Another major issue that is being faced by the industry is the lack of skilled and experienced manpower. As we are in the hinterland, it is more challenging for us to get manpower at the salary that we offer. Currently, we are trying to train local people. As the paper is a niche industry, the product depends on the process engineer. The non-availability of paper tech as a subject at a graduate level at many institutes has affected the industry.
Other bottlenecks include the cost and availability of raw materials, chemicals, and steam. Being a government entity, we must go through the Government eMarket place and that makes the sourcing of raw materials more challenging at Nepa. We have been in dialogue with all our vendors to ensure that we get the best price. Today, we are purchasing raw materials at higher prices but we hope to have a definite improvement in the coming months. In the future, the energy crisis will also affect the industry. We need to think of an alternate source of energy source.
PM: What opportunities do you see foresee for the paper industry?
SD: Paper is here to stay; it is an industry that can never die. Initially, the newsprint segment was facing a hurdle, but today it’s picking up once again. People want to get up in the morning and want to hear the crispiness of the newspaper with a hot cup of tea. Though schools and colleges switched to virtual classrooms, they have now shifted back to textbooks.
If you see the other segments, whether paperboard or tissue – it is seeing an upward trend. Tissues were in huge demand during the COVID-19 times. Now that plastic is banned, the paper seems to be an eco-friendly alternative.