Concern over wild fluctuations in the price of the commodity

Salt, which is indispensable to make dishes palatable, may be available to consumers cheaply at a time when most of the commodities are going out of their reach.

A closer look at the sprawling salt pans in this coastal mandal with men and women at work brings to light the plight of the producers of one of the under-valued commodities with low income but daylong back-breaking work under blazing sun.

Sparing some time while preparing land for yet another season with lots of hope, a couple told The Hindu that ''Income for us does not come that easy. If there are no rains in the next six months, we will be able to scrape through this season given the increasing cost of production, natural calamities and unsteady market.”

Salt production is marked by fluctuating fortunes. While, a bag of 100 kg fetches up to Rs. 100 during the rainy season, it falls to as low as Rs. 30 per quintal during June, says Bhagyalakshmi helping her husband in getting ready the salt storing platform. Salt fetches Rs. 50 per quintal during March and April and Rs. 40 in May, she adds.

Another salt producer, G. Koteswara Rao explains the land preparation which involves pumping out stagnating rainwater, forming of field channels, overhauling of electric motor, strengthening of bunds, stamping of land in the salt pan for several hours with bare foot after putting fresh sand.

''We get about two tonnes of salt production per acre during the season which starts in March and extends till June'', says Yesamma with a one-acre landholding.

The production hits the peak in May if there are no rains like in 2010 when the Prakasam coast was struck by the Laila cyclone, recalls Indira, helping her husband remove mud from their land.

K. Nancharlu Reddy, president of the Kothapatnam Salt Manufacturers Cooperative Society which has 150 acres of land under salt pans, says the main problem for the producers is lack of holding capacity.

Loan quantum

Putting the cost of production at Rs. 45,000 per acre, he says: ''We are getting just Rs 15,000 as loan from public sector banks. We will be happy if the loan quantum is increased to at least Rs 30,000.

''If we can hold salt for the rainy season, we can get between Rs. 60 and Rs. 100 per quintal as against Rs. 40 per quintal on an average during summer, he adds.

''Power to pump sea water to our salt pans alone costs about Rs. 10,000 per acre and this will go up further in view of power tariff hike this year'', says society director P. Prakasam.

Power now being given free of cost to peasants, should be extended to the producers of common salt as most of them have only small and marginal holdings, opines Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangam Prakasam district secretary N. Ranga Rao.

Failing eyesight because of working in scorching sun, stones in the stomach, cracks on the foot are some of the health hazards they face, adds Mr. Rao.

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