JOURNEY OF WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT ON THE WHEELS OF LIJJAT PAPAD

While having our evening tea we usually have papad as one of our favourite snack. By saying papad usually Lijjat papad comes to our mind which is one of the most popular brand of papad. For decades Lijjat papad is enhancing taste and bringing flavour in our meals. There are various brands of papad but no one matches the taste and quality of these brand. But do you know the great story from Rs 80 to a huge amount of Rs 800 crore behind this brand.

Seven women from Bombay Jaswantiben Jamnadas Popat, Parvatiben Ramdas Thodani, Ujamben Narandas Kundalia, Banuben. N. Tanna, Laguben Amritlar Gokani, Jayaben V. Vithalani, and Chutadben Amisha Gawade started a venture using their only skill cooking. They borrowed Rs 80 from Chhaganlal Karamsi Parekh, a social worker and a member of Servants of Indian Society. They gathered on terrace of their building and started with the production of four packets of papad on 15 March, 1959. They started selling their produce to a merchant in Bhuleshwar. They decided to not to ask anyone for donation or help even if they are in loss. Initially they were making papads of inferior quality to sell at cheaper rate, but on advice of Chhaganlal they started making standard one and then decided to never compromise on quality. Initially younger girls were also allowed to join but later 18 was fixed as the minimum age. Total women reached to 25 within three months. The annual sale was Rs 6196 in the first year. On second year papads were kept on cot and below that stove for drying the papads even during rain.

They got publicity through local newspaper which helped them to increase their membership. There were 100 to 150 women during second year and 300 on third. As the terrace were not sufficient to accommodate members and ingredients, kneaded flour was distributed among members to make papads at their homes and brought back for weighing and packaging.

On 1962 Lijjat was chosen for the brand’s name by the group. The organisation got the name Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad. Annual sales reached Rs 1,82,000 by 1962-63. It registiserd as a society under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 on July, 1966. U N Dhebar, chairman of Khadi Development and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), on recommendation of Chhaganlal inspected the Lijjat. KVIC recognised Lijjat as a unit belonging to ‘processing of cereals and pulses industry group’ on September, 1966 under the Khadi and Village Industries Act. It also got recognised as a ‘village industry’. It got certain tax exemptions and a capital of Rs 8,00,000 from KVIC.

In Valod, Gujrat the first branch was established outside Maharashtra on 1968. They expanded there bussiness to other products like khakhra, masala, vadi, wheat atta and bakery products. They set up flour mills in 1975, printing division in 1977 and polypropylene packing division in 1978. They enhanced themselves to the soap market in 1988 with Sasa detergent and soap. Sasa had accounted for 17 percent of Lijjat’s total turnover having an annual sale of Rs 500 million in 1998. It’s 50th branch was established on March, 1996 in Mumbai.

They started taking part in trade fares and exhibitions to make their brand popular and to improve sale during 1980s. They started advertising themselves on television, local newspapers and radio and also started sponsoring programmes on television. Polypropylene division financed these advertisements.

The Vice- President of Uganda Dr. Speciosa Wandira- Kazibwe was interested in setting up a similar institution in Uganda and visited Lijjat’s office in January, 1996. They started exporting there products to United Kingdom, United States, Middle East, Singapore, Netherlands, Thailand and other countries. In 2001 its annual export reached more than 2.4 million USD.

KVIC awarded it the ‘Best Village Industries Institution’ for 1998-99 to 2000-01. At the Economic Times Awards for Corporate Excellence ‘The Women behind Lijjat Papad’ were awarded ‘Businesswoman of the Year’ in 2002.

Lijjat had a turnover of Rs 3 billion and exports worth Rs 100 million while employing 42000 people in 62 divisions in 2002. Jammu and Kashmir have its 62nd branch operational since 2002.

It received ‘Best Village Industry Institution’ in 2003, PHDCCI Brand Equity Award in 2005. They celebrated their 50th anniversary on 15 March, 2009.

On 18 July, 1999 literacy and compute classes were held for member sisters and their families in Girgaum, Mumbai, later such classes were held on other branches also. Chhaganbapa Smruti Scholarships were given to the daughters of the member sisters. The first pucca road in Valod was built in 1979 with the help of Lijjat’s Valod branch. Lijjat organised a seminar ‘ Child Care and Mother Welfare’ in Mumbai with the UNICEF.

They are also active in various social service activities like providing nutritious food to poor children, arranging community marriage, organising blood donation drive, plantation drives, health camps and various other activities. They took part in rehabilitation of earthquake affected areas such as constructing 58 houses for the people of earthquake affected village in Latur, Maharashtra and 40 houses for the people of Bhujpur in Kutch district. All branches contributed more than Rs 4.8 million including Rs 1 million from central office for the 2001 Gujarat earthquake.

The story of Lijjat Papad is a perfect example of women empowerment. It shows how a group of simple housewives can set up a business empire by using their basic skill of cooking and how these group of empowered women can do a lot a for these society, country and further empowering other women. Next time when you have Papad in your snacks prepared by your mother or sister remember this story.

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