Economy

Boat makers in Odisha’s coastal villages struggle to stay afloat

New bridges, fibre boats, lack of good wood and even fish stocks bring about the industry’s end

 
By Ashis Senapati
Last Updated: Monday 17 June 2019
Carpenters repairing a fishing vessel in Kharinashi village. Photo: Ashis Senapati
Carpenters repairing a fishing vessel in Kharinashi village. Photo: Ashis Senapati Carpenters repairing a fishing vessel in Kharinashi village. Photo: Ashis Senapati

Odisha was once known for its sea-faring traders and their wooden boats. The reputation has taken a beating with time and now, its boat-making industry seems to be on the fag end of its innings.  

According to most boat makers in Odisha's coastal districts of Kendrapada and Jagatsinghpur, the industry has largely declined in the past two decades. Many boat makers are passing their days in acute economic hardship, with a steep slump in their business. Many of them have already left their traditional profession due to a sharp fall in their income.

“Unlike the past, we don't have this work throughout the year now, which is forcing us to opt for other trades,” said Mahadev Moharana, a boat maker of Jamboo village.

“Once, we used to have sufficient income to pursue the business. But these days, boat makers can hardly survive,” said Sarat Mandal, 56, of Jamboo, who retired from boat making sometime ago.

Ram Jena, 45, another boat maker in the same village, said he would leave his business although this had been his family’s main profession for three generations. 

Among the major reasons being cited for the decline of the industry are the recent construction of bridges over rivers in the two districts and the advent of fibre fishing boats. Other causes include a lack of special carpenters, non-availability of good quality wood, pollution in sea waters, dwindling fish populations and the increasing cost of particular woods.

There is a sudden drop in the manufacture of new boats at units in Kharinashi, Ramanagar, Jamboo, Barapada, Kansar, Batighar, Tubi, Paradip and other areas, after fishermen started purchasing fibre boats two decades back. 

The boat makers in these areas, who used to build around 500 new boats every year, are now eking out a livelihood by repairing old boats. The number of new boats being built had come down to around 250 last year, said Harekrushna Moharana, a boat maker in Kharinashi village.

As Giridhari Mandal’s hands give finishing touches to a wooden boat, there is a look of distaste on his face. “I learnt the art of making wooden boats from my father. In our village, around 20 families used to make boats a decade back. But now, only 10 families do it. The invasion of fibre boats has forced many boat makers to go in search of greener pastures. Others have taken other odd jobs,” said 57-year-old Giridhari from the seaside village of Batighar.

Mandal says he does not want his children to become traditional boat makers.

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