Salt pans spreading over 2,350 acres at Marakkanam in Villupuram district have been hit by the recent rains.

The inundation caused by the run-off rainwater from the upland has not only diluted the brine quality of storage in the pans but also reduced the volume of salt production.

Preliminary estimate reveals that annual salt production in the region has fallen by half, triggering shortage and price rise. It would have its fallout on the next season's production and the price factor as well.

This is vouched by sources from the Salt Department of the Union Ministry of Industry and Commerce. Sources told The Hindu that of the total area of 2,350 acres under salt, 1,200 acres was owned by the State government and the remaining by the Union government.

Besides, there is a private salt producer having salt pans on 25 acres of patta land.

The annual salt production in the region was in the range of 60,000 tonnes to 80,000 tonnes.

Salt was obtained from two sources - sea brine and sub-soil brine. While the former accounted for 60 to 65 per cent, the latter contributed to 35 to 40 per cent.

Intermittent rain during the north-east monsoon period had dimmed the prospects of getting a bumper yield of salt, sources said.

January 15 used to be the day for commencement of salt scrapping, coinciding with the agricultural harvest.

However, the rain had played havoc and what was left of the pans now was sub-standard salt with reduced brine characteristics.

Though the pans were now cleared of water stagnation, only thin deposit of salt could be seen with all kinds of impurities, sources said.

Some of the pans, in fact, had become fish breeding grounds. Sources predicted that there was every possibility of the salt prices spiralling, with little prospects of showing any downtrend in the near future.

The pre-monsoon prices were at Rs. 100 to Rs. 125 a quintal but the post-monsoon prices had shot up to Rs.160 to Rs.175 a quintal.

There was every likelihood of the prices going up further because the existing thin stock, a carry-over from the previous season that lasted seven to eight months, could hardly meet the market demand for the next couple of months.

As many as 1,000 families were eking out a living from the salt pans, but rain damage had burned a hole in their pockets.

Therefore, they would have to look for sundry jobs in the agricultural sector for a limited period, sources said.

As regards compensation package, the sources said that the actual losses would be known only after a Central committee made its assessment.