Unseasonal rains delays salt production in Thoothukudi

The recent unseasonal rains that lashed the district before ‘Pongal’ has delayed the start of salt production this year as most of the saltpans are still submerged in rainwater.

The coastal district, India’s second largest salt producer after Gujarat, produces 25 lakh tonnes of salt every year from saltpans in Vembar, Vaeppalodai, Tharuvaikulam, Ayyanarpuram, Muthaiahpuram, Mullakkaadu, Pazhayakaayal and Arumuganeri. Salt producers would usually start the season with the preparatory works in January every year by rectifying the damages caused by the northeast monsoon to the saltpans between October and December. Subsequently, salt production would start in February and go up to September last week before the onset of northeast monsoon. There will be no production during the northeast monsoon i.e. between October and December.

Since the monsoon continued even in January wherein the district experienced heavy downpour this year it caused heavy damage to the saltpans, where knee-deep rainwater is still stagnating.

“We can prepare the saltpans for this season only after the stagnant rainwater completely drains. If there is no fresh spell of rain and sunny days continue, we can prepare the saltpans by February alone and salt production will start only in the second week of March. So the producers stand to lose a month’s production this year,” says A. R. A. S. Dhanapalan, secretary of Small Scale Salt Producers’ Association.

He also warns that the salt production would suffer further setback if there were another round of unexpected rains before or after the production started.

Interestingly, the salt producers, who usually have to wind-up their operations by September-end every year, could continue their production till October-end last year as the northeast monsoon started only in November. And, the district produced 22.50 lakh tonnes of salt in 2020 (from February to October). After selling nearly 18.50 lakh tonnes, around 4 lakh tonnes of salt has been stocked in the stockyards to meet the demand till February even as a tonne of salt is being sold anywhere between ₹1,500 and ₹2,000.

“If we cannot start salt production in March, it will create a demand in the market and the price will go up,” Mr. Dhanapalan says.

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