Even when civilization was not advanced to the present stage, man knew the art of spinning and weaving have remained unchanged, new techniques and continued refinements have led to the development of a world-wide industry with the application of powered machinery to the basic processes during the 19th and 20th Century.

Cotton is a cellulosic natural fibre which grows profusely over the surface of seeds of cotton plants. From the botanical aspect, it is more accute to say that cotton is a seed hair and hot a true fibre being an outgrowth in the form of a single cell on the epidermis on the outer skin of the seed.

The three elementary needs of man viz., Food shelter and clothing and cotton occupies the pivotal role when it comes to clothing. Cloth are not just something to weave, but as the trend goes, they are an indicator of one’s way of life.

The Textile industry is India’s largest organised industry representing a value of 17.2 % of the country’s total industrial production. India has over 20 million spindles which is the highest in the world. This is only followed by China (18 million), U.S.A. (17.8 million) and U.S.S.R. (16 million). India has also the worlds largest number of looms (5.6 lakhs) including power looms. Our country is first in the world in the production of cotton cloth and fourth in cotton consumption (after China, U.S.S.R. and U.S.A.).

The following are some of the other vital statistics regarding cotton textile industry. India has 347 spinning mills (producing only yarn), 290 composite mills (producing yarn and fabrics). The industry provides direct employment for one million and another 9 million in related and ancillary jobs.

The annual wage bill comes to nearly Rs. 500 crores. India exports textile goods to more than 100 countries. India produces 8400 million running metres of cloth with an estimated total value of more than Rs. 5500 million.

The textile industry ranks second only to agriculture in importance in the Indian Economy.

India is always known for its fine cotton goods. However, the first modern textile factory was established in 1854. The factories are concentrated in three important towns Bombay (33 %) , Coimbatore (27%) and Ahmedabad (20 %). Nowadays, the remaining mills are spread throughout India perhaps to the extent that each main branch of the four General Insurance Companies may underwrite at least one cotton mill.

Although we speak of cotton industry, in reality its main processes and products defy any such precise definition. The rapid development of rayon spinning and weaving and the recent introduction of synthetic polymer fibres serve to illustrate the difficulties of defining its boundaries and cotton industry is intractably associated with other industries.


In many parts of the world, especially in the tropical regions of North America, South America, India, Egypt, the west Indies and Africa, the climate is suitable for the growth of cotton. The cotton plant (3 to 5 feet in height) bears numerous pinkish – white flowers and when these die, they leave capsules containing upto eight cotton seeds. During the growth stage, the seeds are covered with cotton fibres, the whole being packed within a pod (kala). Each seed is enclosed completely within 4000 or so fibres which grow outwardly from it. the growing mass of cotton fibres causes the kala to burst exposing a mass of fluffy white cotton.

During this period of ripening of the kala, pickers go round and pick the cotton. It is necessary to go over the cotton fields several times since the kalas do not all ripen at the same time. In this way, huge masses of cotton, all the fibres being attached to seeds, are collected. The kalas of cotton may also be picked mechanically by means of machines which have been specially designed for this somewhat complicated operation. Unfortunately, the mechanical picking machines cannot be so selective as hand pickers so that cotton kalas of different degrees of maturity becomes mixed and a larger amount of so called “trash” (leaf, twigs, etc.) is drawn in with the cotton.

During growth in the cotton kala, the cotton fibres are rod like and cylindrical. Growth takes place each night so that the fibre is built up progressively of about forty concentric layers of cellulose. Right through the centre of each growing fibre is a canal or space through which nutrient can pass. When the cotton kala ripens and bursts, the fibres are exposed to the hot sun and they dry and collapse to lose their cylindrical form, acquiring the twisted ribbon like appearance.

By application of special swelling treatment, these collapsed fibres can again be made to become cylindrical and attain their form as in the cotton kala just before ripening and drying, but in ordinary cotton materials the fibres are always present in their ribbon-like form.


The latest evidence obtained by Research on the fine structure of a cotton fibre indicates that it is not solid throughout, but that it is built up of fibrils twisted about each other in much the same manner as the individual cotton fibres are twisted to form cotton thread. These fibrils are exceptionally fine and tenuous so that some thousands of them go to make up a single cotton fibre. It is this complex structure which gives each cotton fibre great tensile strength and resistance to repeated flexing and wear.

The cellulose of which a cotton fibre is made is very similar to the cellulose which is found in many other natural products such as wood linen and the harder parts of most plant stalks and leaves. In the cotton fibre, it is associated with a number of other substances notably waxes, pectic products and mineral substances. These are quite small in amount, say not more than 4 per cent altogether. They are referred to as impurities by the manufacturer of cotton goods, but actually they fulfil a useful function in the cotton plant. These impurities give water repellency. Generally, these are objectionable effects and would make it difficult to colour and finish cotton fabrics satisfactorily, so it is always a first step in the art of dyeing and finishing to purify the cotton as completely as possible.

Fibre Characteristics :

Each cotton fibre is from ¾ to 1 ½ inch in length and its diameter varies slightly from one end to the other but averages 1/1,000 inches. These dimensions vary with the type of cotton. Usually a long fibre is correspondingly finer. From the view-point of cotton manufacture, the finer and longer the fibre the more suitable it is for making high quality materials. Long, fine fibres allow the production of threads, which, though fine, have high strength.

Each cotton fibre weighs about 1/10,000,000 oz. so that in 1 1b of cotton, there are about 160,000,000 cotton fibres. If these fibres were placed end to end, they would extend for about 2,500 miles. The finer cotton fabrics have more twists per inch than the coarser fibres. Thus there may be upwards of 250 twists (both right and left-handed) per inch in an Egyptian cotton fibre but only 150 twists per inch in an Indian cotton fibre. All these points bring about the shape and character of cotton threads and fabrics.

The cellulose of which cotton is made is a very tough and durable substance. Yet, it is a very simple substance from the Chemist’s point of view. In each molecule of cellulose are combined six carbon, ten hydrogen and five oxygen atoms. So permanent and stable is cellulose that it has universally been accepted as the most suitable raw material for making the rayons now so much used. However, although cellulose (and therefore cotton) is highly resistant to sunlight, heat and alkalis, it is deteriorated by the action of acids, and oxidising agents such as hydrogen peroxide and chlorine bleaching compounds. These properties will be considered later, but at this point, it is very convenient to refer to the reaction of cotton with caustic soda which is used to give it increased lustre in the process known as mercerisation.


As soon as the crop is ready for picking, an army of workers descend on the fields to gather it in. This is a critical time : a alight fall of rain may seriously damage the quality of the cotton, and consequently reduce the price obtainable for it, and if the seed cotton is left too long after it is ready for picking, deterioration and staining may begin. It is, therefore, essential to waste no time once an adequate proportion of the fields has ripened. Subsequent pickings gather that part which has ripened, more slowly, and as the cotton is picked it is removed from the field, mainly by bullock or hand carts.

If immediate sale does not take place, the cotton has the first of its many periods of storage. The accommodation provided for it will vary from any space which can be found in the grower’s own house to any form of shelter, such as a building of burnt mud bricks with tiled or corrugated iron roof, or an entirely makeshift structure of palm leaves.

Before ginning, the seed cotton consists of loose fluff still attached to the actual seed and is known as kuppas. In this condition, it is highly inflamable and the smallest fire is likely to a total loss. Insurance under such conditions, while the raw cotton is still with the grower, is however, comparatively rare, unless the storage is under the control of a bank or other financing party.

The Kuppas are normally transported to the Pressing factories by means of road transport. On arrival at the factory, the Kuppas is weighed and stacked according to quality. Stacking is usually done on stone or concrete bed in the open, or in open fronted corrugated iron shelters : Slowly the compound fills. The next stage is picking over for impurities and deformities, and for the yellow stains caused by the parasites. Mixing of various grades may also be necessary to achieve some particular quality. The Kuppas is then ready for ginning and thousands of maunds weight of Kuppas may be lying in the factory compound.

Again the risk of fire is considerable. In the factory, precautions are usually more or less efficient, and there will be water hydrants, worked by the ginning factory engine, to deal with an outbreak. Neverthless, it is surprising that fires do not occur, even more frequently then they do, particularly in Southern India where the boiler fires are often stocked with the husks of groundnuts and it is common in the evening to see long trails of sparks from the chemneys. Most of these die out long before they reach the ground, but it is an alarming phenomenon when the observer remembers the piles of kuppas grouped so close to the chimney.

The presence of fire extinguishing appliances is not guarantee that they are in working order; even the fire extinguisher may not be all that it seems, for the essential bottle of chemicals may well have been replaced by any convenient ink, or indeed not replaced at all. Fire buckets, except in well-managed factories in the larger towns, are rearely full of anything except dirt or the fluffy, inflammable dust generated by ginning. There may not even be water in the premises.


Cotton supplies heavy cord for the cores of tyres of all descriptions, it does duty in industry for such things as driving belts and production conveyor belts. Cotton is used for the upholstery of furniture, heavy and light cuntains and many items of interior decoration. It makes shirts, sheets, frocks and underwear, and supplies a valuable mercerised thread for stripes and patterns in worsted cloth for suits. Cotton is also used as the weft in certain woollen fabrics to give them strength and is blended with wool in knitted goods to make them more sturdy. It is also used as surgical dressings in Hospitals and Nursing homes.

The may types of cotton cloth and fabrics run into unbelievable figures. So far as clothing is concerned the chief types are : Velvets, poplins, nets, voiles, shirtings, prints, cords, Jacquards, organdies, lace and lingerie fabrics.


The invention of cotton gin was probably the most important event in the development of cotton industry, because the ginning process made possible removal of seeds from several hundered pounds of cotton in a day compared to hand ginning. Although hand worked gins are common, the power gins are more in demand.


In this process, the Kuppas is passed through a beating and cutting machine to separate the cotton fibres from the seed. The three common type of Ginning Machines are :-

(a) Macarthy Gin : This is suitable for all kinds of cotton, but used mainly for long stapled cotton where the fibres are easily separated from the seeds.

(b) Saw Gin : This is suitable for cottons being of a type in which fibres are not too easily separated from the seeds.

(c) Knife-roller Gin : This is suitable for short staple cotton which adheres tenaciously to the seeds.

The seeds collected in a room underneath the Ginning Room (called seed alley) would be collected and generally utilised for cattle-feed. Specially selected seeds are put aside for raising next crop and some are crushed to extract oil.


The ginned cotton is then passed to the press house, where it is squeezed under great pressure into bales. These are covered with hessian or gunny and bound with thin metal tape. The pressing is done by steam or hydraulic power into bales each weighing about 400 lbs. The making of bale is not an instantaneous process, but a gradual one, alternate feeding of cotton to the press and compression by the rams building it up to the required size in a series of layers.


3.1 Location Hazard

The Gin & Press factories are normally constructed in and around cotton growing areas, facilitating easy transport of raw material. Hence being country areas, roads are irregular and the place generally inapproachable. Hence fire fighting will be rendered difficult at times of fire.

The ginning trade is seasonal and machinery lying idle without any maintenance is a source originating the fire due to friction.

Vast compound and vegetation also poses a risk in times of season due to heavy arrivals and indiseriminate storages. Further, exposure especially to Kuppas and lint in the light of size and height of storage in open transport vehicles, belching out exhaust gases from the engines makes the hazard pronounced.

Similarly risks located near Railway tracks or siding face similar exposure from the exhaust of steam engines, sparks of which may ignite cotton in open.

Should any fire occur, it will be so huge that it would go beyond control in no time.

To summarise, hazard (severe) exists during the entire season.

3.2 Process Hazards.

In modern times, all gins are worked by electric power. As the country is also poised for development of cotton, increasing the acreage and new strains Most of factories, are large sized with the number of ginneries, and work all the shifts. The lay out of the plant consists of motors installed on the same floor level as the ginneries either independent drives or by belt system. All the factories do not have any system of fluff or dust extraction and these would be seen depositing on motors, controls and starters and the lighting. Manual cleaning is no doubt is done but this is a far away solution to this problem. Most of these fires are due to ignition of fluff coming in contact with heated surface of machinery and consequent spread to stocks lying in proximity. In some factories involving belt drive system the motors are in basement. Such areas as are open to belt to pass through, attract a lot of fluff and depositing on motors and bearings of conveyor systems. The wiring system in some places with temporary wire suspended, also contribute to fire. The motors are no boubt totally enclosed but still fluff enters through grill openings for air sucking to cool the motor. The seed of the lint are separated and this seed is discharged outside through screw conveyor system located underground. But inefficient lubrication of moving system & bearings cause fires. Static charges created due to movement of Kuppas in ginneries or in the screw conveyors also cause fires.

3.3 Warehouse Storages.

The lint awaiting despatches or baling are stored in godowns. There is no limit to height and storages are invariably upto the roof limit. They are normally in a range with godowns adjoining and separated by non standard partition walls. Therefore the fire load is most pronounced. In case of fire event of failure by instant detection and extinguishment, the fire will gain severe intensity and start spreading. The extinction will be difficult. Most of the godowns of the stocks are under keyloan with the Bankers. Factory people will have no access immediately in case of fires until the godowns are opened.

3.4 Open Storage.

As mentioned earlier the vast indiscriminate storage leaving no proper space as between storages will render fire fighting difficult. Nowadays the yard is having lighting with overhead wires. In view of vast open area and the factory in country areas the wind movement is heavy susceptible to lighting and sometimes the short circuits are caused the sparks igniting the cotton. The platforms are not constructed properly and the thick dry grass vegetation all-round poses a hazard due to bush fires travelling underneath the bushes and unnoticed. In so many places regulated markets are constructed to facilitate the trade and they are close to ginneries. There have been many disastrous fires in these markets. Also as dealt earlier transport vehicles using diesel and their exhaust systems being ineffective with lot of gases mostly carbon monoxide produce an ignitable mixture. Recent development to avoid this is spraying of sodium bicarbonate solution on the stocks.

4. After cotton is fully pressed in bales, the hazard is very much reduced. These bales are stored near the press house and later shifted either
(a) to a cotton market or (b) to a Textile Mill or
(c) to a warehouse or (d) to a port overseas.
The hazards during storage in the warehouse or godowns are as follows :

General Hazards during storage at Warehouse, Port or Railway Yard

The bales while they are stored in Railway Yard or Port Godowns present a hazard due to its magnitude and in public places “what is everybodys” business becomes nobody’s business”. The only redeeming feature is that it will take a long time for a pressed bale really to burn. But water used in fire fighting pose a problem since water will not the fibres. However, as long as the hales are intact, water will not penetrate deeply. When bales are damaged by water it is advisable to have them opened and damaged cotton removed and sound cotton repressed. The hessian around the bale keep it clean. Cotton is liable to heat damage due to microbiological action and is also liable to spontaneous combustion when packed wet or in contract with oil or greasy substances. Even when fire damage is less, smoke and water used in extinguishing the fire takes a further toll of loss. The disposal of salvage after a fire calls for quick decision at the appropriate time.

The storage of cotton in open poses great hazard not only because of the ease with which fire can originate but also the cause of its quick spread to adjoining stacks by wind.

Storage conditions in the godowns or yards under the control of Port Trusts and similar public bodies are in general well maintained or at any rate safety regulations are strigently applied. The inspectors of the Tariff Advisory Committee and the engineer attached to the four general insurance companies pay frequent visits and occasional reports on storage conditions are brought out. The Bombay Salvage Corps has its station actually within the main storage area at the port. The Loss Prevention Association of India Ltd. also brings out valuable suggestions.

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