NEYYATINKARA: ‘’What is a traditional ‘sadya’ without a ‘papad’ on the banana leaf?’’ When 45-year-old Tresia from Neyyatinkara asks this question, there is more to it than meets the eye.
For, the papads reaching the markets of Thiruvananthapuram and Marthandam and Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu are from Neyyatinkara where more than 500 families and 3000-odd workers like Tresia eke out a living making the crispy crunchies.
From the last Assembly election about a year ago to this by-election, for these families of Neyyatinkara, which are for three generations engaged in making papads, nothing has come their way other than the increase in the price of raw materials and the hike in electricity charges contributing to escalating production cost.
‘’Don’t ask us which political party will we vote for. For us, what matters is our livelihood and whoever helps us to improve that will naturally be our favourite. How many industries have you seen in which the owner who spends the money works along with the workers? We cannot relax after making the investment,’’ said Latha B, owner of LP Papad as she sits in a shed attached to her house and packs papads with other women workers.
In the Neyyatinkara region, more than 500 families are engaged in papad making in places such as Chunduvilakam, Pattyakala, Nellimoodu, Injipulluvila, Pong, Kannaravila and Kondangavila.
Latha complains that the price of the main ingredient in the making of papad - black gram - has increased manifold. “The production cost has increased and owing to the hike in petrol prices, transportation has also become a costly affair. We have 22 workers and we cannot cut their salary. Recently, two people who rode a bike to Marthandom to supply papads died in an accident and their families did not get any help from the government,’’ she said.
Athira, who joined the traditional family work after completing her 12th grade, earns Re 1 per kg of dough with which around 250 papads are made. ‘’This is the standard salary that exists in the region and one worker on an average basis will get around `125 a day. Due to this, many people have now started looking for other jobs,’’ she said.
Vijil V, who joined his father in their traditional business, purchased a papad-making machine from Mumbai last month as he felt that it would be more profitable than paying salaries to 20-odd workers. ‘’It was a one-time investment of Rs 1.25 lakh. We did not get any subsidy from government even after ours being a small-scale industry.
But in the long run, I think the machine will be more viable since it helped me reduce the number of workers to half,’’ Vijil said. ‘’But the high electricity charges is a problem,’’ he adds.
Panchayat member Kodangavila Vijayakumar said that the government was turning a blind eye to the plight of these workers. ‘’There are no subsidies for them even though papad-making is listed as an SME. Also, they don’t have any health insurance or any sort of help from the government,’’ he said.