By Uday Adhvaryu
Kharaghoda (Gujarat), Jan.26 : Situated in Gujarat's Surendranagar District near little Rann of Kutch, Kharaghoda Village is described to be the salt hub of the country.
Of the 70 per cent of the total salt production that comes from Gujarat, 60 percent is contributed by the Little Rann of Kutch, making it a major zone of salt production in the country.
Kharaghoda Village has almost 80-90 salt industries including the Hindustan Salts Limited, the only public sector company engaged in India for the production and manufacturing of salt in Kharaghoda.
But the Saltpan workers are compelled to migrate to other places as huge stocks of salt are languishing in salt pans due to the lack of transportation.
During the British colonial rule, Kharaghoda's prosperity began with the setting up of a railway line for transportation of salt across India as well as to the neighbouring countries.
But today, the plight of salt industry is a need a major concern from the government. This salt hub of Kharaghoda is on the verge of a collapse.
There was a time when 2,400 tonnes of salt would be transported out in a day through Railway rakes. Today, tonnes of salt stock are piling up, as there is no major means of transportation of salt. This industry is dependent on Indian Railways for transportation of salt and thus the salt merchants put the blame on railways for their pitiable condition.
"Our business is mainly dependent on Railways. If the Railways do not provide us with the wagons, our stocks will be wasted. We are facing a lot of problems be it the availability of trucks or management of labour and business, every one is facing difficulty," said Gordhan Bhai, a salt merchant.
"The fresh salt production should be out in the market in one month but that may not be possible (due to non-availability of rail wagons). As a result we wont be having money to pay the wages of the labourers," he added.
For the last 45 days, these saltpan workers have not received a single goods rake from the railways despite urging for the same months ago.
"One month is left when our fresh salt produce would be ready and since two months we have not been able to send our old salt production (to market). The future scenario is that we won't get the space to keep salt. We will have to leave salt in this condition in the Rann (Rann of Kutch),"said Rajni Bhai, a salt merchant.
"If the Railway does not supply us with wagons the country will also loose valuable money. We will have to dispose off the ready made salt into the sea, so we request the Railways to act fast," said Rajni Bhai, a salt merchant.
"Today, 400,000 tonnes of stock is piling up in open grounds and the owners are expecting the new produce of 10, 00,000 tonne of salt before March. Over 10,000 labours including saltpan workers are involved in this industry," Rajni said.
Shortage of cash and no alternative for employment in this region, the labourers are on the brink of starvation. Many of them have started leaving for other places.
"Salt business was doing fine but of late we have not been getting the racks from the Railway. The labourers are dying of hunger, half of the public has already left the village and the rest are getting ready to leave because there is no work here, from where will the poor labourers eat," said Asif Rathod, Salt Labourer.
However, the railway officials refused to comment on the issue.
According to sources, railway racks are being deputed for transportation of shipments of wheat and fertilizers from Kandla port and Gandhidham.
Wheat and fertilizers which fall under 'B' category of Railway transporting goods are considered as a perishable commodity as compared to salt are getting preferential treatment.
The main business of Kharaghoda is salt production.
Each family of the village is engaged in this business in many other ways. Whether it is a salt merchant, labour or the saltpan workers in the village, everyone is affected with the downfall of the business.
But these workers are still living with the hope, the government authorities would take a serious view of their plight and help them in their livelihood.