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Potters rue shortage of hands

D.J.Walter Scott
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The industry looks towards mechanisation to survive

Pots kept in the potters’ society at Manamadurai in Sivaganga district.— Photo: L. Balachandar
Pots kept in the potters’ society at Manamadurai in Sivaganga district.— Photo: L. Balachandar

Plagued with dearth of labour on one hand and raw material on the other, pottery, a cottage industry in this region lies in doldrums. The potters’ society is now toying with the idea of introducing machinery in pottery making.

As the younger generation was not enamoured in pursuing their “kula thozhil” (traditional family work), the Manamadurai Pottery Workers Cooperative Cottage Industrial Society, was considering introducing pug mill, jigger jolly and other machines for pottery making, says Mr K.Veluchamy, president of the society.

The society established in 1946, had 225 members - all but two in the age group of 50 to 60 years. The industry faced a bleak future as skilled labour would become scarce in the next five to ten years, he says. “We have no option but to introduce machines to protect the industry,” he added.

Pottery making was also no longer remunerative. If three members of a family worked for 12 hours a day, they could make Rs 15,000, a month after meeting the expenses, says Mr. Veluchamy. Youngsters from traditional pottery making families opted for other jobs as they were not willing to work for 12 hours a day and earn a paltry Rs. 5,000 a month.

If the labour problem could be addressed by introducing machines, non availability of clay, the vital raw material, posed a serious threat to the industry, he says. Following a Supreme Court order, the Mines and Minerals Department in the district had banned removing clay from water bodies. Getting permits from the Pollution Control Board was an uphill task, he says.

Manamadurai was famous for pottery, thanks to the unique quality of clay available in the “Kanmais” (water bodies) in Nathapurakki, Sundaranadappu, Nedunkulam and Seikalathur hamlets, but the ban order crippled the industry, he says.

The Khadi and Village Industries and the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry offered to provide training on terracotta pot making but the society could send a list of only homemakers that too after getting an undertaking that they would make use of the training. The men were uninterested.

Under the UNDP, the society had received funds for setting up gas kilns and for buying machines in 2005, but they were not put to the best use when the society was run by Special Officers, Mr. Veluchamy, who recently took over as president said. The society was planning to repair the machines and install the gas kiln for baking the pots, dispensing with the open kilns.

“Couple of export companies in Madurai and Chennai had made enquiries for exporting some items to Malaysia and the Gulf countries. The industry was hoping that the government gives permission to remove clay from the water bodies,” he added.

The Society, which was procuring pottery items from the members, has so far sold them for Rs. 22 lakh during this financial year against the target of Rs. 30 lakh. “In the next three months, we can do achieve Rs. 10 lakh,” Mr Veluchamy said exuding confidence.

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