Govind D. Belgaumkar

At least 10 factories have closed down

in as many years

Factories struggle to find skilled

and cooperative workers

Mangalore: When the demand for Mangalore tiles is on the rise, the factories making them are shutting down. At least 10 factories have closed down in as many years, according to septuagenarian F.M. Lobo, who has seen the industry from close quarters for a good part of his life. He is the owner of Cascia Tile Factory here.

Even as the tiles over Victoria Terminus in Mumbai stand tall proclaiming the quality of Mangalore tiles for over a century now, the owners of surviving tile factories struggle to find skilled and cooperative workers and go the extra mile to get that quality clay. They have to bring clay from 30 km or more. Skilled workers demand a bigger share of the pie and the owners are apprehensive that they would not be able to survive at this rate.

Why not pay well when the demand is on the rise? “An enterprising entrepreneur can do that. But how can I know that demand will sustain for long?” asks Mr. Lobo.

While the industry here awaits that entrepreneur, tile factories have come up in many parts of the State. But there can no substitute for Mangalore tile — made using the local clay under Mangalore’s “perfect” condition. It is said humidity of Mangalore and surrounding areas and the quality clay available here ensure that each tile weighs about 2 kg and 95 per cent of the tiles are not brittle.

The cost of a full lorry load is below Rs. 30,000. The tiles made in other places weigh about 2.5 kg to 3 kg. Today, people with small budgets or a taste for the classic style use Mangalore tiles to build houses.

Architects and engineers suggest tiles roof over concrete terraces. “RCC roofs begin to leak after 20 to 25 years,” Mr. Lobo says, adding that the first factory was set up here in 1857 by German missionaries near Morgan Gate.

Thereafter, a series of factories came up on the banks of the Netravathi. A century and a half later, the trend has reversed.