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New Delhi: This week, an official in a paint factory in Mysore will lock himself in a secure room in his company's premises. His job: mixing chemicals for the ink to mark voters in the coming Lok Sabha elections.
The elections, yet to be notified, are expected to take place some time in April or May. With barely two months left at the earliest, state election commissions have already started to flood Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd with orders for the "indelible ink".
"We have so far got orders from 21 states," Mysore Paints managing director KJ Suresh said.
Voters' ink or indelible ink has been in use since the third general elections in 1962. Developed by the Delhi-based National Physical Laboratory, the ink's manufacturing has been licensed by the state-run National Research Development Council to Mysore Paints, a 72-year-old company owned by the Karnataka government.
The firm manufactures a wide range of paints, varnishes, primers and distemper, and aims to paint everything from walls, buses and roads to cancellation marks on postage stamps.
But all that would come to a halt soon, thanks to the impending polls. "We are planning to begin production of the ink next week and our regular operations will virtually stop during this period," said Suresh. While most of the raw materials have already been procured, a major component, silver nitrate, will be bought in phases.
"We have to cope with the silver price, which is swinging. We are not buying the entire requirement and storing it, as it's too capital-intensive. We are buying when prices dip," he said.
Only one man in the company knows the formula for making the ink - its quality control manager. And he does it behind a secure, locked door and alone. "Nobody is allowed to enter the chamber. Though I can enter, I do it very rarely," Suresh said.
Compared to the 2004 general elections, the factory will have to virtually double its supply for ink for the latest edition of Lok Sabha polls. That is because, in 2006, the Election Commission changed the method for application of ink on the voter's left forefinger from a dot to a line - "running from top of the nail to the bottom of first joint of the left forefinger".
Consequently, the ink will have to be supplied in phials of 10 millilitres each, double that of five ml phials in the 2004 elections. The price of each phial is around Rs.80, with taxes accounting for about 20 percent.
"According to our initial estimates, we will be supplying 15.5-16 lakh (1.5-1.6 million) of such phials to the entire country," Suresh said, adding that he expects to complete the production in about 20 days after starting the process.
He also expects to make "a small profit" on each phial, but added that the amount can be calculated only after raw materials are procured. The largest order - 286,000 phials - not surprisingly will be for Uttar Pradesh. On the other extreme, the island union territory of Lakshadweep wants just 160 phials.
With only one man in Mysore Paints knowing the "secret formula", the management has now started to think of a successor for him on his retirement. "He has been working with us for over 20-25 years and still has several years left, but we have to start planning now," said Suresh. And, the managing director added, the successor "has to have great integrity".