Baliapal: Bolang panchayat and nearby areas in Balasore district are synonymous with natural salt harvesting. But all the activities relating to salt harvesting once seen here have long been stopped owing to lack of encouragement from the government and popularity of iodised salt.
Now everything seems to have come to a standstill.
At one point in time, several rounds of closed-door meetings were held and decisions were taken therein to revive the salt harvesting units that were running in profit.
“When we came to know that the government was keen on reviving the salt harvesting here, we were hopeful that the better days were not far off. But we were saddened to see no steps were taken according to the decisions passed in the meetings,” salt farmer Sudhir Mandal said while fellow farmers Bikash Mandal, Laxmidhar Samant and some others nodded in agreement.
When the salt business was at its peak, a cooperative society was formed in the name of ‘Salt Manufacturing Industries’ here. The salt production too had taken the shape of a cottage industry. According to some elderly farmers, there was a time when more than 500 families were in the business of salt production here. The fate of their business took a change for worse when iodised salt was introduced. Packaged iodised salt manufactured by big brands glutted the market and became the first preference of consumers.
That said, the government too provided machines and set up a laboratory at Bolang. The salt produced here were able to hold the ground — but only for a short while. The machine provided by the government conked off after few months of its installation bring a premature end to salt manufacturing here, they alleged.
“At that time we had little choice but to sell our salt to middlemen at throwaway prices and suffered losses. It became difficult to run families. The collection of 20 times land tax proved to be the last straw. Some of us were forced to go out as migrant labourers,” said an elderly salt farmer while adding that the profit earning cooperative society became sick by 1996 making the fate of salt farmers uncertain. That resulted in farmers eking their livelihood through salt production to turn their faces from their traditional business and look for something else that gave them a decent earning.
“In the run-up to the general elections, we were told about a mega project setting up a salt factory here. Months have passed since the elections, but nothing has been done so far in this regard,” the depressed and dejected farmers added.
It is said that Bolang salt is superior to the salt harvested in Humma, Suranda, Sumani etc of Ganjam district or for that matter in any other part of the state. It is said to have natural content of iodine up to 15 per cent. Besides, Bolang panchayat has readymade infrastructures for salt production which is yet to be cashed on.
People presently buying a kilogram of packaged salt at anything between Rs 15 and 20 would be able to do so for Rs 10, if Bolang salt is processed and made available to them. More importantly, it would also bring a huge difference to the lives of salt farmers. Like earlier, they will get back their source of income and at the same time, be able to keep the traditional salt production afloat, said a salt farmer.