Salt pan workers await disbursal of promised relief

This will to some extent prevent migration of workers, say manufacturers

Thousands of workers at salt pans in Vedaranyam expect prompt disbursal of the monthly relief of ₹ 5,000 per family announced recently by the State Government during the off-season months that extends from October to January.

Small scale manufacturers believe that the promised relief, a fulfilment of the poll promise by the Government, would, to a significant extent, prevent migration of workers in search of jobs to western districts to sustain their livelihood during the rainy season.

There is, however, no information so far on how the prospective beneficiaries will be enumerated. “We are still awaiting official information on distribution of the promised monsoon relief,” says V. Senthil, Secretary, Vedaranyam Small Scale Salt Manufacturers’ Federation.

State-wide, thousands of workers in salt pans are known to have secured membership of the Unorganised Workers Welfare Board. “Formation of a separate welfare board for the salt pan workers is the need of the hour to enrol all of them. The manufacturers are looking for clarity on the eligibility of workers for availing themselves of the monthly relief during the monsoon months,” Mr. Senthil said.

The salt industry in Vedaranyam has not recovered after the devastating impact of Gaja cyclone in 2018. Most of the salt pans were inundated with silt from the sea and neither the Central nor the State Government had fulfilled the request made by the manufactures for a special assistance to resume salt production.

Thereafter, the workers were left without jobs and a good number of them thought it fit to migrate elsewhere for livelihood. The salt industry is still in a crisis situation in Vedaranyam, and the heavy spells of downpour in recent weeks have only precipitated the problems of the manufacturers and workers.

Salt extraction, one of the primary economic activities of Vedaranyam region, is done from about 10,400 acres of which 7,000 acres are operated by two big companies by taking land on lease from the Salt Commission of India. The remaining 3,400 acres have been let on lease to about 700 small-scale producers (holding 5 to 10 acres).

Nearly 8,000 male and female permanent workers from Vedaranyam and surrounding villages are involved in the salt production process, manufacturers say. During the lean season from October to January, most of the workers borrow money from moneylenders at exorbitant rates of interest and eventually end up in deep debts.

Though the workers are entitled to priority in allotment of leased land for salt extraction through formation of coop societies, not many are aware of their rights.

According to Sujitha, a Tiruchi-based activist involved in sustaining livelihood of the salt pan workers, their deteriorating health condition is a cause for deep concern.

According to a study undertaken by a team from JIPMER in partnership with M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, a high prevalence of eye infection associated with exposure to sun and ultraviolet rays was found among salt workers of Vedaranyam.

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