Staff Reporter

KOCHI: The Keezhmadu Khadi and Village Industries Cooperative Society is symbolic of an industry that is tottering under pressure from new products and trends and a scarcity of key raw material so acute that only a miracle can save it.

The society is the last one standing among what used to be a flourishing group of clay-based units in Ernakulam district, making pottery, tiles, bricks and a whole lot of other products that went into ornamenting interiors of homes.

That among the 24 cooperative societies financed by the Khadi and Village Industries Board in the district only one survives is a measure of the catastrophe that has fallen on the clay-based industry.

The Board financed the last of these cooperative societies about two decades ago. Sixty-five individual units too were sponsored, of which only one survives, said an official of the Board here.

Along with new trends and demand for more diversified products, acute scarcity of good quality clay spells disaster for the industry. The cost of clay has gone up, while the quality has come down.

If 100 cubic feet of clay cost Rs. 630 last year, the cost has gone up to Rs. 950 this year, says a spokesman for the Keezhmadu Society, near Aluva, that was given a loan by the Khadi Board to start a tile unit.

Similarly, the cost of firewood and kerosene, important ingredients of the industry, has gone up too.

The society still owes the Board money even as it tries to keep afloat. The society employs 50 people directly and indirectly, says its secretary, K. Unnikrishnan. He is optimistic that the society will be able to diversify into a new area of activity to keep the more than 50-year-old society alive.

That the society is a shadow of its past is evident from the fact that at one time it used to churn out around a lakh pieces of tiles in a good month. Now the production touches around 5,000 a month. New glazed tiles have captured the imagination of those who still love traditional building items.