State of the Economy 2019

Uphill Climb

The pharma industry has to deal with poor road connectivity and an unskilled labour force in Sikkim, but it seems to have made peace with the mountains

Photographs by Sandipan Chaterjee

It is 9 am,  and a cold December morning in Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital. The laid-back city has woken up. Luckily, there are no clouds. So the snow-peaked Kanchenjunga is visible from most points in the city. On the sloping roads, hard-working locals are carrying blue-colored LPG cylinders on their backs, to be delivered to hotels. Clearly, life is more demanding in the hills. It is no different for the pharma manufacturers who have set up base in Sikkim over the past decade. 

Today, we are to meet the management and workers at a few of these units around Gangtok, and we plan to start with Mankind Pharma. It emerges that, around here, Google Maps itself is a bit lost. We end up relying on good old phone calls to make our way. The drive along the Teesta River is picturesque but the final stretch is rough and we are tossed around inside the car. Often, an oncoming vehicle has to stop or back away at tight turns. This would be one hell of a ride to work every day. Then why do manufacturers head to a place like this? Over conversations, we realise, they came chasing two golden words: fiscal incentives.

From its gate, Mankind’s plant is not visible. After a walk to the edge of the property, we see a towering building complex, rising up from the riverside plains. “This is a Sikkim style of factory construction,” we are informed. Land is difficult to come by and so multi-storey units are common. 

It is hard to imagine but, two years ago, there was nothing here. The plant has the potential to produce Rs.14 billion worth of tablets and capsules. It was inaugurated 2017, and only a part of the plant is operational. But Abhay Kumar Srivastava, president (operations), Mankind Pharma, says, “It will be fully operational by this March.” Inside, it is a pretty sophisticated plant. Tablets pass through various stages of granulation, compression, coating, and packaging. Big and modern machines are at work at each step. 


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