Not only farmers and fishermen, the livelihood of small-scale salt producers in Vedaranyam was also battered when Cyclone Gaja made a landfall near the town. The storm caused severe damage to salt pans belonging to more than 700 small manufacturers.
Small manufacturers who support as many as 10,000 families in and around Vedaranyam were earlier not certain if they would be in a position to start salt production from January before the onset of the summer season. “The destruction caused by the Cyclone Gaja was heavier than the loss we had suffered when Tsunami struck in 2004. The impact of the cyclone has been severe. Setting right the salt pans will cost at least Rs 1 lakh per acre. The traditional salt manufacturers who have no other source of income have been crippled,” said V Senthil, Secretary of Vedaranyam Small and Medium Scale Salt Manufacturers Association.
At least 50 producers, who own salt pans from one acre to 50 acres, have begun revamping their salt panes till now. However, the producers are yet to get any compensation from the authority of salt commissionerate of the Central government despite repeated demands. Nearly 20 per cent of salt producers, who were able to arrange the least required to revive the salt pans, have begun the works. “It is not that we have given up our hopes on the compensation. But the more the delay, the more we lose production for the next season. Not every one of us has the financial ability. There are still manufacturers who need financial assistance,” Senthil said.
As of now, the salt producers have restored power supply with the government support. They have begun to set up their pans, bunds, furrows, condensation units and also sheds that house motors and switchboards. “We must begin production at least by March. Another problem is labourers migrating to other jobs. Many of our labourers have taken up other jobs or working under MGNREGS. It is difficult to get skilled labourers. So, it is imperative we make efforts to start the preliminary works,” said K Shanmuga Sundaram, a salt producer from Vedaranyam.
More than one lakh tonnes of salt was also reportedly washed away by Cyclone Gaja. Apart from this, salt pans spread over 4,000 acres of land in Agasthiyampallai, Pushkarani, Kailavanampettai, Andarkaadu, Kodiyakadu were covered with slush in the aftermath of the storm. At least Rs 25,000 is required to begin the preliminary works. Usually, it is not easy to get a loan from the bank for salt manufacturing. We want the provision of loans in this time of crisis, said Shanmuga Sundaram.
Vedaranyam salt industry that produces at least 6 lakh tonnes a year has been reeling under various problems, including transport and occasional rainfall that hits production. Of the 9,000 acres of land, salt production is undertaken by two private companies in 6,000 acres. Over 10,000 families are directly or indirectly dependent on the salt production in remaining 3,000 acres that belong to the small and medium salt producers.
In Vedaranyam, 6000 acres are undertaken by two corporate firms with 3000 acres each and the remaining 3000 acres land are shared by small and medium salt producers in which more than 10,000 families either are directly or indirectly are involved.