A spell of pleasant weather in otherwise dry areas could mean bland dishes on the table for many as the production of edible salts from the Kutch region in Gujarat, which accounts for more than 70% of the consumption in the northern states, is expected to fall by 15% in 2008 following heavy rains and a longer-than-usual winter.
Warm and sunny weather plays a crucial role in the faster production of salt and the dry and arid conditions in the western parts of Gujarat place the state among the top three salt producers in the country, the other two being Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan.
Since 2004-05, though, the production of salt from the Kutch region has been declining due to colder weather and longer spells of rain.
“Heat helps in the faster formation of salt crystals. But this year, the temperature has remained low as winter continued till mid-February, delaying the formation and quantity of salt produced in the region,” said Manish Shah, a salt-pan owner from Kutch.
About 2.6 million tonnes (mt) of edible salt is produced every year in the Little Rann of Kutch area alone, with another 1.5-2mt of salt manufactured in other parts of Kutch, primarily the land near Gandhidham and Kandla Port. The Kutch region supplies edible salt to Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir.
Indians, on average, consume around 6kg of salt every year per person. Combined with the use of salt in various industries, the total demand in the country rises to more than 12mt per annum. With average salt production of about 15mt a year, India is the third largest producer of the commodity in the world after the US and China.
Salt-pan workers, or agariyas, normally begin making salt in October, towards the end of the monsoon, by pumping out sub-soil brine water. The process goes on for the next five months, usually till end-March.
The salt crystals are collected till mid-June, giving owners a window of more than eight months to manufacture salt. However, with the Kutch region experiencing rains from early June to mid-November, the owners had less time to manufacture salt.
“This year, too, the situation was no different and the manufacturing process could begin only in November,” said Hiralal Parekh, director of Gandhidham-based Doongursee Salt Works Pvt. Ltd.
Besides the weather, the supply of salt from the Kutch region has been hit by another crucial factor—the non-availability of railway rakes for transportation.
The Indian Railways network, one of the largest in the world, is key to the supply of salt to most parts of the country, with more than 50% of the total edible salt produced transported by rail.
Each rake can transport up to 2,500 tonnes of salt, but the railways “gives priority to foodgrains and fertilizers for allocation of rakes, which affects our supply chain adversely,” Shah said.