The Times of India::Wednesday, December 14, 2011.
SURENDRANAGAR: It is the area that produces more than 25% of India's total salt. Little Rann of Kutch is among the major areas where salt pans exist in the desert and not on sea shore, thanks to high salinity in water. The industry, however, is now experiencing a setback due to shortage of water that has led the salt pan owners to start digging deeper and farther in the Rann.
Vijay Patel, 43, a salt pan owner at Satapar village near the Rann, said that earlier the water was available around 10 kilometers in desert and they had to dig up 10 to 20 feet to get the water deposits that could be used for the salt production. "However today, we have to go as far as 40 kilometers in search of underground saline water and the dig as deep as 55 feet. Yet, there is no guarantee of finding water," he said.
Patel is not alone. Salt industry is the biggest employment generator for the area for the past 40 years. Around 13,000 workers get direct employment and other fringe industries such as transportation and packaging generate 15,000 more jobs. The areas around the Rann had more than 1,200 saltpans functioning five years ago. However, the number has gone down to 750 since.
Salt pan owners had formed an association last year for negotiation with the buyers and government. Dharamshi Thakor, president of the association, told TOI that one bore well used to be sufficient for a saltpan that produces 400 to 500 tons of salt. "Today, we require four bore wells to produce the same quantity. As we have to depend on generators to bring water to surface from such a depth, the cost works against the industry. Today we are selling a ton of salt at Rs 2,500. The price will soon shoot up if the problem persists," he said.
Ambubhai Patel, a community member from Kharaghoda village and expert on saltpan workers, said that the problem partially lies in the overuse of saline water. "I remember that saline water used to be found at four feet in 1972. A pair of bullocks was enough to get the water for business. Today, many have jumped in the fray and it has resulted in the decrease of water level," he said.
Patel said that simple measures can solve the issue. "We've been urging the state government for years to provide us with a canal from Malia Hati village, the starting point of Little Rann near gulf of Kutch that brings water in the desert. The canal will solve problem of the saline water in the area. However, the proposal has been gathering dust in the government files," he said.
According to industry sources, earlier Surendranagar ranked first in production of salt, thanks to Kharaghoda area. However, over the years, areas in Kutch and Saurashtra have raced ahead of the district.