This was an unusual weekend at the Noida-Greater Noida industrial belt, more than 50 km away from downtown Delhi. Three electronics majors, which make up almost half the smartphone market in the country, opened up their factories after the longest shutdown so far lasting 48 days.
The government had eased norms for the manufacturing sector last month while extending the nationwide lockdown, but very few of the 3,000-odd electronics firms have managed to get approval to open their plants so far.
On Saturday, Samsung India Electronics, counted among the largest in the space, ushered in over 1,000 workers at its facility in Sector 81, Noida. Although the typical gathering at the plant’s entrance was missing, enthusiasm about getting back to business was only too apparent.
With the firm bound to follow social distancing guidelines as part of its new standard operating procedure (SOP), dozens of company-managed vehicles drove the workers through the gate towards a makeshift counter. Security personnel stood attentively, armed with infrared thermometers, for the mandatory health check drill.
Besides Korean major Samsung, two electronics manufacturers from China — Vivo and Oppo — too have opened their plants in this hub. Estimates suggest in 2020, Vivo (the second-largest smartphone player in the country), Samsung (in the third place) and Oppo (fourth) have together lost well over Rs 10,000 crore in sales in March and April due to the lockdown. In 2018-19, the three had posted revenues of close toRs 1 trillion in the country. LG, the other Korean behemoth present in this hub, is yet to get the nod to start operations.
At Samsung, operations are restricted to the smartphone manufacturing unit for now, sources pointed out. Activities at other units, like the one assembling refrigerators, have not resumed. “It’s encouraging to see some action finally. But it is also becoming clear how the Covid-19 crisis has changed everything. Unlike earlier, now even interacting freely or loitering around with colleagues, is restricted. We are all learning from the new environment,” said a security personnel at the plant.
The firm has secured permit from the district authorities for resuming operations with up to 3,000 employees in the initial phase. Unlike earlier, it is sticking to only a single shift for now.
Some distance away, at smartphone maker Vivo’s manufacturing unit in Greater Noida, the focus is on maintenance and mock drills based on its revised SOP. The second-largest smartphone company in the country (by volume market share) brought in 2,500 employees on Saturday — that’s just a fraction of its 10,000-odd workforce strength when fully operational.
A Vivo spokesperson said, “We have got approval to resume production with about 30 per cent of the capacity. We shall strictly follow government’s guidelines to ensure safety and security of our employees.”
According to people familiar with its current level of operations at the plant, Vivo is expected to resume production of handsets by early next week.
“Friday onwards, we are going through extensive trainings on how to remain efficient, despite maintaining the new sets of rules like standing apart from our colleagues inside the premises and not gathering for chit-chats. It will take time to get accustomed to the new normal,” said a person working at the plant.
LG Electronics, not lucky to have got the nod yet, is hopeful of getting the work permit soon. A company spokesperson said its team was in constant touch with the district authorities. Its gates remain closed and large transporters are not in sight around the factory complex in Greater Noida. The Power Spack plant, adjacent to the LG facility that manufactures automobile parts, too wears a deserted look.
Like Vivo, rival Oppo Mobile India has got permission to operate with 30 per cent capacity. The firm is gearing up to welcome 3,000 employees at its facility — located some six kilometres away from the LG plant. To reduce the risk of contamination inside its premises, company officials, including its HR staff and trainers, are holding sessions with factory managers through video conferences. An Oppo India spokesperson said the firm was closely monitoring implications of the initial movements that were on now.
“It will be an ongoing process. We will decide our next set of actions based on how the new SOP works out.”
Avneet Singh Marwah, CEO of TV maker Superplastronics, that has a plant near the Samsung facility in Sector 81 of Noida, said the firm had secured work permit and was preparing to resume manufacturing from Monday. “We would utilize these three days in preparing the plant for the production run,” he said.
Despite allowing some companies to resume activities at their plants, the district administration is keeping a close watch on the developments. It is expected to initiate uninformed plant visits next week to check whether the SOPs and safety guideline lines are followed.
Till the hub in this satellite town opens fully for business, streets–that were once buzzing with activity—would remain quiet, an onlooker pointed out.