They make salt and get buried in it… The salty truth of the farmers who feed the country
This story is about the Agadia farmers, whose salt made by the whole country is eaten. Jayanthi Bhai (42) is also an Agadia laborer and a salt farmer in Kharaghoda Rann, Surendranagar, Gujarat. He doesn’t even remember how long he has been working here. In 2021-22, more than 266 lakh tonnes of salt was produced in the country. Out of this, 227.65 lakh tonnes i.e. 85% of salt was produced in Gujarat. Tamil Nadu (17.21 lakh tonnes) and Rajasthan (16.90 lakh tonnes) produced the highest salt after Gujarat.
Kharaghoda is also known as Little Rann of Kutch. Spread over an area of more than 5,000 square kilometers, this Rann produces salt like the Rann of Kutch and this Rann accounts for about 30% of the total salt produced in Gujarat. The number of salt farmers here is more than 50 thousand. Here too salt is made from the ground water. In many parts of the country, salt is also made from sea water.
Life of salt farmers ‘tasteless’
Without salt, even the most expensive dish becomes tasteless. But the life of the laborers who make salt is salty. They make salt from the saltiness of the water. His life is even saltier than that. According to the report of the government, the number of salt laborers in the country is more than 9 lakhs. About 4.5 lakh laborers are involved in this work in Gujarat.
Manisha, who is about 45 years old, does not even know that there are elections in Gujarat. After working in the salt pans for about 8 hours, she has returned to the hut built in the Rann. Washing feet again and again. But his complexion is the whitest of whites. ‘ She was born here. Working here Haven’t gone out for two months. Haven’t bathed for a month. Drinking water also comes here once in a month. That too depends on the will of the government. We come to know about the election when the leaders come to ask for votes. But not everyone comes here either. Who will come 50-60 km away from the city. Manisha says.
The story of Mahesh Agadia, about 35 years old, is also similar. When we reached him, he was busy raising the beds of his farm. While working, he says in Gujarati, ‘I was born here. There is nothing here in the name of features. If you fall ill, you have to go to the hospital 50 km away and there is no vehicle to go there. Drinking water also comes from tankers. There is no school here for the children, nor is there a market nearby where we can buy the things we need. Can’t leave children alone at home. They also come to work with us.
Agadia farmers are severely hit by chemicals like sodium chloride. Children and wives also work with them here. Salt basins (field beds) are first prepared for salt in Gujarat. The salt water stored in it evaporates and in the end what remains is the salt. It is sent to factories for processing. During this whole process, the salt laborers stay in salty water with bare feet for about ten to twelve hours. By the way, the rule is that there should be goggles and gumboots for the feet to protect the laborers from the sun. But everything is paper. Usually, an Agadia farmer produces 60 tonnes of salt per day, for which he gets around 150 to 200 rupees.
Mahatma Gandhi had done Satyagraha to free salt from the occupation of British power. After the departure of the British, the salt came under the control of the central government. The report of the CAG that came in the year 2021 is shocking. If reports are to be believed, the laborers have been desperate even for drinking water. Children yearn to read. His eyesight is deteriorating due to the side effects of salt production. There are also complaints of paralysis. And the biggest thing is that they do not get timely treatment.
Tragedy of Agadia farmers
Anbu Patel, a senior journalist from Surendranagar and who writes about the problems of these salt farmers, says, ‘The eyesight of these farmers starts decreasing due to continuous work in salt. Diseases like blindness, hardening of the skin, melting, blood pressure, knee injury, backache and malaria are common for them. His feet are always in salt. Due to which the flow of blood in the veins of the leg becomes weak and the veins become dry. The feet become dry, thin and hard. After the death of a laborer, when his body is burnt, the whole body gets burnt. But the leg does not burn. After that the feet are buried by digging a pit and salt is sprinkled on them so that the feet melt. Even though Gandhi ji freed Nakam. But all this is a tragedy for the farmers who make salt or say, the laborers of Agadia.
‘From October to June these farmers stay here. Their condition is like that of labourers. Teachers are sent here during the season to teach their children. But there comes only one teacher who teaches all subjects. And the biggest thing is that these teachers are not kept separately. These teachers also teach in schools outside here. To say this is a medical van. But that too is without work like government hospitals. Overall the government is thinking about them. But the ground reality is like his other plans too. Anbu Patel says They also state that the Agadiyas are not a community, caste or religion. The one who makes salt is called Agadiya in our place.
Ambu Bhai further says that starting from October till June, when salt is produced, laborers are also employed. The government had built five thousand houses for the farmers under the Salt Laborers Housing Scheme in the tenth plan. Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited was entrusted with the scheme of providing drinking water to the labourers. But no one knows what happened to these plans. The government is taking initiative. But much remains to be done.
In this era of inflation, how would these farmers be able to survive with so little money? Bharat C Rawal, president of the Indian Salt Manufacturers Association (ISMA), says that earlier Gujarat used to produce 30,000 metric tonnes of salt. By 1991 it reached 7,00,000 metric tons in three years. We worked with CSR in those days by providing health infrastructure support to salt farmers. When we started working for these farmers the farmers were getting ₹17/tonne and in the first years the price increased to ₹27 per tonne and reached ₹70 by 1991.
But it is also true that not much has changed in the lives of these farmers. About five lakh people are directly and indirectly employed in the salt industry. At present, a farmer earns about ₹ 250 to ₹ 300 from one ton of salt. Prices keep fluctuating. Rawal adds further.
According to statistics, about 75 percent of the country’s population eats salt made from Gujarat. Whereas Gujarat accounts for about 80% of the total salt produced in the country. In the remaining 20 percent, Rajasthan’s share is 10%. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Himachal Pradesh are in the remaining 10 percent. India also exports 10 million tonnes of salt to about 55 countries. If we talk about the world, then after China and America, most of the salt is made in India.
According to the annual report of the Salt Department, out of the total production of salt in the country in 2020-21, 76 lakh tonnes of salt was used for domestic use, while 66 lakh tonnes of salt was exported abroad. The rest was sent to salt industries. India exported salt worth about Rs 870 crore during 2020-21. But there is also a dark side to this multi-crore business.