Paper Market at Baithakkhana

Team Chronicle

Baithakkhana is home to Asia’s largest paper market, considering the number of traders doing business here as well as the volume of business that is transacted every day. A mind-boggling variety of paper varying in terms of size, texture, quality, colour and thickness are sold here. According to old hands, almost over 110 kinds of paper are sold in this market. A visit to Baithakkhana is an eye-opener as you begin to realise the wide variety of paper which is used in everyday life. There are dealers for all kinds of paper used for printing of office stationery, publicity materials, notebooks, computer print, laser print, photocopier, food grade quality paper and paper boxes. And while at a stationery shop you buy a notebook, in this market, this item is sold only by weight or full size uncut sheets.

Although Baithakkhana paper market is a bazaar by its own right, it is actually an ancillary. The book market in adjoining College Street has fuelled the growth of this market. Publishers in and around College Street area source their paper from Baithakkhana and the other allied works like printing and binding of books are also done in the adjoining market of Patwarbagan.

Located inside a by-lane of Surya Sen Street near Sealdah, Baithakkhana market, as you might have guessed by now, is not under one roof and comprises over 1,500 shops. These include sellers of paper and paper boards. Along with these there are the ancillary ones involved in printing, binding and photocopying. Only a handful of shops in this locality sell products other than paper which includes the Anglo Arabic School inside Buddhu Ostagar Lane.

The Market
Once you get down from the Vidyapati Setu or Sealdah flyover on APC Road, enter the road on your left with the tram tracks which marks the starting point of the market. Rows of shops of printers and paper sellers begin from the second lane on the right on Surya Sen Street with some of the oldest paper shops of the Baithakkhana market.

“It is here that the first shops came up in this locality in the 1950s. Over decades, the market spilled over into the main road as well,” said Santu Das, a worker at the over 65-year-old Lokenath Paper Mart, situated inside the lane.

According to the President of the Baithakkhana Sangslishtha Anchalik Byabosayee Samity (BSABS) and Vice President of Federation of Paper Traders Association of India (FPTA), in 1950s there were about 50-60 shops but today the market comprises around 1,500 shops. Over the decades, other shops like laundries, sweet shops, restaurants, hardware dealers, bidi and vegetable sellers moved away and their place was taken by those in the paper trade. “Most of the wholesalers in paper trade who used to work from Radha Bazar near Tea Board have now shifted to Baithakkhana,” he said.

For instance, Variety Paper Mart, one of the biggest and oldest dealers in Baithakkhana, started off as bidi sellers in 1952. “We are the fourth generation involved in running this shop. For a while, this shop sold bidi and then moved on to off-cut selling of paper for 10 years, and finally, we got into selling foolscap paper,” said Madhusudhan Ray, owner, Variety Paper Mart. He recollects that while there were only 4-5 companies supplying them paper back in 1950s, today it is impossible for him to keep a count of the dealers who are in business.

According to Subhash Chandra Saha, Director, Box Corner Pvt. Ltd. (1980) and former President of Calcutta Paper Traders Association, about 2,000 tonnes of paper are traded every month. “If we take the average cost of paper to be INR 40 per kilo, then the monetary transaction at Baithakkhana only for cartons and boxes would come to about INR 8 crore, even if you leave apart printing industry” said Saha.

“The more white and smooth the paper is, the better it is, in terms of quality,” explained Pinaki Majumdar of AK Paper Cutting Centre which deals only in paper for the past 12 years. At his shop, a ream of A4 sheet of paper from JK Paper Mill is available at INR 190 while its printed MRP is INR 240. One can strike a good bargain at these shops as they sell according to wholesale rates.

Paper from Ballarpur Industries Limited (BILT) is currently considered to be among the best ones. Dealers bring paper to this market from all parts of the country including Haryana, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh. Other well known names available in the market are Orient, Century, JK and West Coast Paper Mill.

“There are about 4-5 paper mills in Bengal including Nayek Paper Mill in Bardhaman and API Paper Mill in Kamarhati. But despite so, Baithakkhana sources most of its supply from other states,” said Saha.

Interestingly, a large number of the buyers to Baithakkhana also come from outside Calcutta. “Paper is supplied from here to entire eastern India and even to other states in north, west and south. This, to a large extent makes Baithakkhana the centre of paper trade,” said Subhash Chandra Saha, Director, Box Corner.

Being a whole sale market, its customers usually buy in bulk mostly for printing of office stationeries, publicity materials and reading books. Those who have large orders to meet, visit from shop to shop looking for the exact quality of paper required, going by their customer’s specifications. Middlemen operating in the market also bring orders for paper from printers. The specification for the kind of paper required is generally based on its thickness (measured in GSM) and size (length x breadth).

“While 25 sheets of paper comprise a dista, 500 sheets comprise one ream. There are about 100-150 types of paper available with us which vary in terms of quality, size and purpose of use,” said Ranajit Kumar Bose of Bosco which is one of the oldest dealers in paper and paper board which started business in 1948. Bosco stocks a large variety of papers required for making letter heads, book printing, billing, laser printing and newsprint.

“Newsprint is one item where we don’t have much variety in and it’s the cheapest compared to other kinds of paper” said Bose.

Paper boxes for packing sweets, sarees, shirts, cigarettes, etc. form another chunk of the business at Baithakkhana. For food products, there are two kinds available – hygienic food grade quality and the other one – standard. The standard quality paper can be distinguished by its roughness while the certified food-grade quality paper is smooth and glossy on both sides.

“We take orders of minimum 1,000 boxes of either quality which can be made into any size. The cost of the food-grade quality paper is 40% higher than the standard one,” said Subhash Chandra Saha, whose shop is one of the biggest dealers of sweets and cakes boxes.

The Bani Paper House is one of the biggest dealers in ready-made garment packaging business. They take care of printing and the outer box for the garment company along with the transparent plastic and the card board that is inserted between the fold of the garment.

Regular notebooks used by school students are also available in the range of INR 100 per kilogram in the market. Depending on the thickness of thecopy, a kilogram usually consists of 6-8 notebooks. “The big notebooks of size 8.5 x 3.5 inch can make only 4 notebooks and are available at the same cost,” said Kiron Sen of Jay Maa Taara Paper Mart.

One can find thick reels of white paper stacked one over the other at a few shops in the locality which are dealing almost exclusively in billing paper. Ranging from 2-5 inch in width, this paper is actually obtained as waste material from the paper-cutting shops in the locality and even outside. “Whatever is left behind after cutting out the required sizes from large-sized reams, comes to our shop. The price per kilogram for this paper is anything between INR 40-50,” said one such vendor.

Changing Times
New methods of printing such as digital, have given a tremendous boost to the paper industry in the past few decades. With the coming of options like digital, laser and offset printing, the requirement of various kinds of paper has increased. The demand for notebooks has also increased substantially. Another sector which has seen similar rise is garments and sweets boxes,” said Gopal Saha. On the other hand, the coming of computerised billing system has led to a decline in the consumption of paper used for making bills and vouchers.

The quality of imported paper is superior to that of its counterpart and is available at the same price. At present, imported paper in various colours from China and Indonesia is in demand.

Baithakkhana paper market is truly a wonder; in the lanes and bylanes, in dingy rooms and godowns the paper trade is carried out, employing thousands of people and supplying to the printing and publishing industry throughout India.