Made-in-India manholes cover US streets

Himalayan News Service

Kolkata, March 12:

For decades, millions of feet have trampled over them. Now, a Indian success story scripted on the streets of New York and Los Angeles is just beginning to unfold. To the ordinary eye, manhole covers dotting the streets of Big Apple don’t merit a second, or for that matter even a first, look. But they represent a hugely successful business that India dominates. Most of New York City’s 600,000 manhole covers and hundreds of thousands all over the US come from India. Foundries around Kolkata claim a big chunk of that business. Indian companies began supplying manhole and sewer access covers to the US almost four decades ago. But in recent times their business has gone up manifold as they charge only a third of what US makers demand for the same work. Municipalities in US are also buying sewer grates, water meters and other castings from India. Crescent, one of the top foundries involved in exporting manhole covers, says its current exports exceed $4 million. “We export to the US, Canada, France, Italy, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Middle East,” says a Crescent official.

According to B Agarwalla of R B Agarwalla group, which has a $2 million per year contract with New York City to manufacture manhole covers, besides India, China is a growing supplier of foundry products. Other exporters are Mexico and Brazil. Indian foundry workers make the equivalent of between $1 (43 rupees) and $3 a day — a pittance compared to what their counterparts make in US foundries. The growing business of sewerage access covers and other casting iron products has attracted international attention with a seminar on manholes being held recently at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair at the Jacobs Javits Center in New York. Titled The World Forum on Manhole Covers, it brought together artists, authors, experts and preservationists to discuss manhole covers in New York. Indian manhole cover exporters say producing for foreign markets was not an easy task because they had not only to stick to strict specifications, but also take care of designs. An American artist, Michele Brody, has started a project ‘Manhole Project’ in which she designs and installs special manhole covers inspired by historical buildings to generate an Old World charm. There is even a society for the preservation of New York City manhole covers which makes tables with manhole cover as tops. These sell for as much as $3,000.