Chandra Prakash, owner of a 40-year-old broom-manufacturing business in Jaipur, is elated.
With centres in Agra, Kolkata, Salem, and Alleppey, and a turnover of around Rs 35 crore, Prakash’s operation is already one of the biggest in the trade. But it has hit a new high since Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan on Oct. 2. “Orders have increased three times,” he says. “Many government departments are ordering brooms. We are running short of raw material and have stopped taking further orders.”
In contrast, Vineet Gupta, proprietor of the 60-year-old Hari Ram Gulab Rai and Sons, the biggest broom manufacturer in Delhi, sees no marked spike. “There is a 10% increase in sales around Diwali every year because many homes and offices are spring cleaned,” he says. “At best, the increase this time is 15% to 20%.”
Still others are using the campaign to do good and generate some brand love in a terribly obscure business. Freudenberg Gala Household Products, a joint venture of the Germany-based Freudenberg Group and Mumbai-based Gala Brushes, supplies cleaning equipment, including brooms, to retailers such as Big Bazaar and Reliance Retail. “We have started a cleaning drive in Anand, Gujarat, along with the municipal corporation and the local Rotary Club, and hope to extend it to other cities,” says Jatin Gala, its chief operating officer. “We have also pledged a rupee from the sale of each of our new no-dust brooms to the campaign.”
THE BROOM INDUSTRY is so fragmented that it is impossible to identify national trends. Broom makers estimate that the business is worth around Rs 200 crore to Rs 250 crore, with around 100 million to 150 million brooms in use at present.
Conventionally, there are two kinds of brooms: the hard ones, called seekh jhaadu or teel jhaadu, used for sweeping outdoors and wet surfaces, and the soft ones, called phool jhaadu, used mostly indoors for dry surfaces.
Nearly 75% of the hard ones are made from the midrib of the coconut palm leaf. The raw material comes mostly from the coasts of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Karnataka.
The soft ones are made from broom grass (Thysanolaena maxima), grown widely in the northeastern states—Assam’s Karbi Anglong district is a key collection centre—and to a lesser extent in northern West Bengal and Odisha. The peak growing season is from April to July, but the inflorescence—the part used in the broom—is harvested only in winter. “It involves large investment and is also risky to keep in stock because it is flammable,” says Chirag Mehta, partner at Mumbai-based cleaning-equipment maker GEBI Products.
Making brooms is still largely a manual process. Companies often distribute the raw material in nearby villages and collect the finished product the next day. Broom makers are paid between Rs 7 and Rs 10 per kilo of brooms supplied. Traders estimate that a single worker, putting in eight to 10 hours a day, can produce 30 kg to 40 kg of the finished product.
“There hasn’t been much innovation in the product,” says Gala. “Many of the new plastic brooms are not as effective as the traditional kind.” But he claims that his no-dust line is different: Its synthetic fibres don’t leave a residue and last three times longer.
BROOMS ARE entirely domestically consumed, barring a small fraction exported to neighbouring countries and West Asia. “Cleaning is fully mechanised in developed countries,” says Gupta of Hari Ram Gulab Rai. That trend is growing in India too. “Sales of our vacuum cleaners are rising at about 15% year-on-year,” says Shashank Sinha, senior general manager, marketing, Eureka Forbes. But Swachh Bharat or not, “by no means is the vacuum cleaner replacing the broom”.