Major Recruiter

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Not many people know that a pharma unit operating from Lassipora for off-shore markets is region’s major recruiter, reports Javed Sofi

After having many ‘odd’ jobs in sales and marketing, Shiraz Ahmad Waggay, 29, a postgraduate in information technology (IT) from National Institute of Technology (NIT), Delhi, finally landed at Protech Biopharma, Kashmir’s first export oriented pharmaceutical company operating from Lassipora (Pulwama).

A resident of Rebbon (Kulgam), Wagay was recruited in the company’s IT cell before being promoted to a managerial position. Shiraz, who draws a decent salary, thanks his stars for the job. “I am thankful to God for getting an IT job at home because IT professionals have bleak prospects here,” said Shiraz.

Manzoor Ahmad Sheikh, 30, is his colleague. A resident of Trenz (Shopian), Manzoor is a graduate. He wasted four years in looking for a job. Dejected, Manzoor finally settled as a manual labour. He started digging gravel from a nearby rivulet to support his family comprising his old parents, wife, a minor son and a younger dependant brother.

Manzoor thought that he has to spend his life in drudgery. But  in 2012, the pharma company hired him. He got the job of sorting and polishing of drugs. Gradually, his life started changing.  Now he is in a position to spend

In Protech Biopharma Shiraz and Manzoor are two faces of a good crowd. The company has actually been a major employer in Lassipora Indstrial Growth Centre. Right now, it employs 115 persons, mostly from surrounding villages of Pulwama and Shopian districts.

“We will be recruiting 40 more youth from the surroundings villages under our expansion programme,” said Abdul Rehman, chief patron of Protech Biopharma. “Only 3 percent of our workers are non-state subjects. They are basically skilled and resource persons.”

This company was established by Waheed ul Rehman, a resident of Chanpora (Srinagar) with his friend, Deepak Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit living at Noida in 2012. Childhood friends, Rehman and Deepak are knitted in bonds of closeness between the two families from their forefather’s time. Both have been pharma students and later into trading and contract manufacturing for around two decades. Deepak has a degree in accountancy from Delhi University. Waheed is a civil engineer with MBA from a Russin university. Both are married and fathers.

Their company is licensed to manufacture almost 200 drugs falling under non betalactum category which includes neuropsychiatric, antibiotic and analgesics drugs in tablet and capsule forms. It manufactures around 10 million tablets and 20 million capsules and manages a million supply orders, a year.

While implementation of the project took its time, in 2014, the company forayed successfully into international market. The first consignment was dispatched to Karzakistan after a delegation from the central Asian country under Ardak U Tulegenova, head pharmaceutical assessment department, Kazakhstan inspected the manufacturing facility. Later, Uzbekistan started procuring a couple of drugs from this facility.

Encouraged by the response by its off shore clients, the company increased its range of products and area of business. It started selling products to clients in other central Asian countries including Karzakistan and Azerbaijan. Currently, the company has 15 products in international market in capsule and tablet forms.  “We are manufacturing two more drugs from this year,” Waheed said. One drug is an enzymatic substitute for pancreatic amylase, lipase and protease while another one is a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug for arthritis.

Earlier the company used to supply consignments to Latin America, East Africa and Japan, indirectly. The company is exploring possibilities of making direct entry into Eastern Europe, Croatia, Latin America, Vietnam and Philippines.

“Proposals have been discussed with various clients in these countries after fulfilling legal formalities and we are hopeful to get approvals soon,” said Waheed, “Qualitatively, we are as good as pharma major in India.”

A recipient of GMP (Good Manufacturing practices) by World Health Organisation (WHO), Protech Biopharma is a two storied manufacturing unit. Its process are professionally managed. S.N Mishra, chief pharmacist, is batch first pharmacy graduate from Birla Institute of Technology (BIT) Ranchi, who had stints in Australia and other countries earlier. He said this unit as “ethically hygienic” with automatic equipments supported by standard Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) for managing pressure, flow, temperature, motion control, and other process variables.

The plant is spread over an acre land. It has separate sections for production, quality control, analysis and testing besides a research and development section.

 “This is a matchless manufacturing unit on quality standards,” said Mishra.

However, setting up a modern industry in Kashmir was not an easy job for Waheed and Deepak. They faced many challenges. The first challenge was how to remain in contact with their foreign clients because in 2012 industrial growth centre Lassipora had no land line connections. The company had to erect its own signal tower to keep in touch with their prospective foreigner clients.

Then there was the dearth of trained manpower. The company had to train local youth for operating various equipments and machines. The officials said they applied for capital investment subsidy to concerned departments but till date they heard nothing from them.

 “We could have chosen Himachal but the question before us was if we can not work in Kashmir, then who will? Our passion to develop a modern industry in Kashmir compelled us to move forward despite many bottlenecks.” said Waheed.

Though working for many years now, the challenges are still around. As they were waiting for hand holding within the norms, the State Industrial Development Corporation (SIDCO) recently started setting up a dumping site in close vicinity of the unit. This will adversely impact the status of the company becase no buyer would like to by drugs from a unit that has questionable surroundings.

 “Instead of promoting our business, SIDCO created hurdles for us,” Waheed said. “It was after court directions that they agreed to move their site 500 meters away from our premises.”

Interestingly, the company sells not much in the local; market, otherwise a lucrative market for the pharma companies. “Right now, we sell only five percent of our production in Kashmir but we are trying to increase it,” Waheed said.

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