With less than 40 days of manufacturing season left to meet targets, salt producers are worried
The humble salt seems to have been overlooked in the fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic — functionaries in the salt manufacturing industry rued that salt production chain was encumbered due to the lockdown.
An immediate action plan to prevent potential scarcity of one of the most essential commodities was needed, they said.
Salt manufacturing usually starts in mid-October and lasts till mid-June. With less than 40 days of the manufacturing season left to meet production targets, and with the onset of monsoon, manufacturers are worried.
They claimed that things were at a more precarious position as salt manufacturing process needed at least 65-85 dry days.
“We have made representations to the Central government. Its notification on manufacturing of essential commodities did not mention salt. But we went ahead in the 13 of 16 salt producing districts in Gujarat that were in green zone. The production was partial,” said Bharatbhai Raval, president, Indian Salt Manufacturing Association (ISMA).
India’s annual consumption of edible salt was at around 90 lakh tonnes and industrial salt at 110 lakh tonnes, he added. India was also bound by international treaty obligations to supply around 60 lakh tonnes to countries like the United Arab Emirates, Nepal, Bangladesh, Japan, among other nations.
In its letter to the government, ISMA wrote that only 4 per cent of around 12,800 salt works came under the organised sector.
Raval explained that Gujarat accounted for 80 per cent of India’s salt production, while the share of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh was 12 per cent. Rajasthan accounted for 7 per cent of the production from Sambhar Lake. The remaining 1 per cent was accounted for by Himachal Pradesh.
He added that the annual production targets, even in normal times, were difficult to achieve.
Underlining the need to make salt production units functional round-the-clock on rotational basis, he said: “The government needs to lay stricter rules for export target and sales. The quota required by the defense forces need to be reserved and kept separately. Most importantly, common people need to be encouraged to purchase raw salt that can be further refined at home.”
The local administration in salt producing districts should have consultations with salt producers and issue guidelines for manufacturing the essential commodity, ISMA wrote. It sought supply of PPE kits and medicines along with other essentials at production sites.
The body underlined the need to carry out salt manufacturing at possible optimum limits to ensure the distribution of iodised and iron fortified salt under the public distribution system to the below poverty line population in different states.
Incidentally, the salt producing community of Agariyas in Gujarat is in natural isolation or quarantine — by virtue of their work nature that draws them to salt pans in remote interiors.
“The administration has ensured supply of essentials and ration to them. Water is supplied through water tankers and payment is assured at the rate of Rs 0.27 per kilogram of salt produced,” said social activist Harinesh Pandya of Agariya Hitrakshak Sangh.
He added that there were around one lakh people from the community involved in salt activity, of whom 70 per cent were into production while the remaining were involved in loading etc.
Agariyas from Surendranagar, Kutch, Morbi, Santalpur and some parts of south Gujarat work in demarcated salt pans in remote interiors of Little Rann of Kutch as seasonal vocation.
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