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Updated: December 27, 2013 12:25 IST

Reconstitute advisory board: Tamil Nadu salt manufacturers

P. V. Srividya
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They oppose the Salt Department’s move to increase ground rent

Salt manufacturers’ of the State have demanded reconstitution of the Central Advisory Board for Salt, contesting the Salt Department’s recent order on open tender system on salt lands and the multi-fold increase on ground rent.

The Salt Department of the Union Government has served demand notices to salt manufacturers on retrospective revision of ground rent, assignment fees, and introduction of open tender system for leasing salt lands. The notice has fixed December 31 as the deadline.

As per the order, the ground rent on salt lands leased by the department has been increased 10 times and the assignment fee by 24 times. About 20 per cent of salt lands that come under the Salt Department would be adversely affected by this order, say salt manufacturers here.

The move is set to affect over 2,400 acres of salt lands in Vedaranyam and a similar area in Tuticorin that are traditionally held in perpetual lease. “These barren, swampy poramboke lands were traditionally developed over three generations with heavy labour and investment and no support from the Salt Department. The department had not put up infrastructure to sustain production,” says A. Vedarathinam, president, Vedaranyam Salt Manufacturers and Merchants Association.

The primary contention of salt manufacturers is that the Salt Department has taken a unilateral decision. The Central Advisory Board for Salt that should ratify any such order affecting the salt industry has not been reconstituted for the last 15 years. The CAB that includes all stakeholders should ratify any such order, says Mr. Vedarathinam, a former member of the CAB.

According to P.V. Rajendran, former MP and President of South India Salt Manufacturers’ Joint Action Committee, the unilateral order is colonial and individual salt manufacturers in Tuticorin have moved the High Court and secured an injunction.

“The hike applies only to around 60,000 acres of lands owned by Union government and salt manufacturers on leased lands of the department will face rising costs. CAB should be constituted taking on board all stakeholders to validate any such order,” says Mr. Rajendran.

The order, it is feared, could cripple salt production in Vedaranyam that is already hampered by lack of infrastructure to transport produced salt. “Unlike Gujarat, which benefits from high tide that helps it to cut down on electricity consumption from pumping in sea water and natural port facilities, the cost of production of salt is very high,” says Mr. Vedarathinam. With no railway line for Vedaranyam, salt movement hinges on road transport.

According to Mr. Vedarathinam, the exorbitant increase in ground rent and assignment fee will make salt production unviable.

Attempts by The Hindu to contact Joint Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) failed. “The Joint Secretary was not authorised to make a statement on the issue,” a representative of the official told The Hindu over phone.

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