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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 48 November 25, 2023

Debate on Deindustrialization continued: Fakirmohan Senapati’s ‘Balesore Pangaluna’ | Radhakanta Barik

Saturday 25 November 2023, by Radhakanta Barik


Abstract: On public perception, Odisha remains the poorest state but things were different in the first half 19th century. The state was bubbling with economic activities. The whole of coastal Odisha had certain key industries like Salt industry and shipbuilding industry. WW Hunter in his Statistical Account of District of Balesore tells these facts. recognizes the fact. But a story writer and novelist Fakirmohan Senapati has brought the political economy as the subtext in his story. In his story, he explains the role of the colonial state and its policy towards the Salt industry. The colonial state through its policies controlled Salt Industry. The District Collector of Balesore turned into Chief Salt officer under whom two more officers worked to regulate the production of salt. The production continued till 1861. The state did not allow salt production afterwards. This resulted in creating huge unemployment in the state in general and in the district of Balesore. One-third of the people of the district got involved in the Salt production and its distribution with the help of ships. The shipbuilding was very much vibrant during the 19th century. Salt production and production of ships both were closely interlinked. One closes the other one suffers. Both these industries suffered the worst during the second half of 19th century. High rate of unemployment among the backward artisan classes and Dalit communities resulted in deaths during the 1866 famine. Here another underlying theory behind the eruption of the great famine is that the destruction of the industrial and agricultural economy due to colonial policies resulted in such a devastating famine of Odisha.

Keywords: Salt industry, shipbuilding industry, Colonial state, unemployment and famine

It is a well-established fact that British rule ruined the manufacturing sector of India. Nationalists initiated the debate on Deindustrialisation. It continued in academic circles. Leading academia joined the debate. The best example they offer was the destruction of textile industry resulted in decline of labour force. Here Fakirmohan Senapati, the leading literary person contributed to the debate but somehow it had not come to public view yet. Contributed to the debate by doing a case study of Balesore (Odisha). In his story he has brought out startling information that the labour force involved in Salt Industry and Shipping industry was almost one-third of the population of Balesore. They came from the artisan class and working class who got killed by the 1866 famine as the colonial state closed the salt industry in 1861.


It is fascinating to look into the debate on deindustrialisation in India. Leading minds of India R C Dutt and Dadabhai Naroji raised the debate that the colonial rule destroyed the industrial structure of India by importing the cheap products from England. It reflected in the language of Naroji “Drainage of Wealth”. The potentiality of Indian economy before the arrival of the British rule got measured by Prof Irfan Habib that in 1800, the Indian subcontinent accounted for 19.7 of world’s manufacturing output. In 1900, its share was 1.7%. (Habib 1969)The best example is the textile industry in India experienced disintegration under the impact of colonial state. (Banerjee, Dasgupta, Mazumdar 2015) India was dominating the textile industry in terms of out put and variety and it used to employ around 15% labour in India. Import of textile products from Manchester destroyed this which resulted in increasing the size of rural labour as the urban labour moved back to country side.

Another a writer and a novelist Fakir Mohan Senapati contributed to the debate on deindustrialisation in a meaningful manner. In a story “Balesori Pangaluna” (2020) he raised the question of destruction two most important industries like ship building industry and salt industry got badly affected by the policy of colonial state which resulted in destruction of business class of Odisha and disintegration of industrial working class. These business men went back to the villages with the workers who lost the jobs which resulted in overcrowding the agriculture. The agriculture in Odisha was already sick under the Maratha rule and Colonial rule pursued the same policy in a vigourous manner. This resulted in regular famines in Odisha and the large-scale deaths in the 1866 famine. Many businessmen and many artisan communities died in the famine which was the striking feature of the great famine. Fakirmohan added to the debate raised by two powerful intellectuals of India like Naroji and RC Dutt.

The colonialism came to Odisha in 1803 but was aware of the dynamics of salt and shipping industry in Odisha in general and in Balesore in particular. Balesore had both these industries working on regular basis. The salt industry started in the month of Sraban and continued till the autumn broke out. The local market looked colourful in welcoming these industrial activities in their town. Here workers working in the salt industry and shipping industry had money in their pockets and they used to spend their money. It is interesting to note here both the businessmen and workers belonged to the backward and Dalit classes. Businessmen were the local Telis and Odiya Muslims.

Workers were from the fishing community, boat making community and Potters who provided the pots for making salt. These workers were from the rural Balesore who had some cultivation but they used to depend on the industrial works. They used to work as industrial labour as the income from cultivation was insufficient. They used to supplement their income through these industrial activities.

State policy during the colonial rule:

The colonial state had laissez-faire policy towards the textile industry. The state allowed import of cheap clothes made in industries of England. Local textile products could not compete with these products as they were cheaper than the local products. But to the contrary the colonial state made a different policy towards the salt and shipping industry. They tried to control the Salt making industry by creating license permit system. The District Collector was the revenue Collector of the district and also the Salt officer and under him two special officers were working in monitoring the production and distribution of the salt.

The administrative set up at the district level: The District Collector was the Salt agent and under his supervision two more administrators were working. It is interesting to note here that all three were white people. They were known as the Assistant Salt agents: Mr Colonel as Salt agent and Mr Boud and Mr Muffat as Asst Salt Agents. In the district collector’s office there were two divisions under the first Munsiff and Second Munsiff.

The production system of Salt:

For producing salt the raw materials were located in the sea coast of Balesore. The saline water came in form of tidal wave on regular basis which was the most important raw material for producing salt. Skilled labour and semiskilled labour were available and the most important part of supplying salt to various important places of India was taken care of by the ships produced here. The firewood for creating salt was freely available on the sea beach. The locational advantage helped the merchants and workers in creating Balesore as an industrial hub for salt production. Let us examine the production process:

1) Every year the state appoints persons (Gulia) to produce the salt. Money spent by Gulia for producing the salt got spilled over to other sections of local society. “ This tendering work for producing salt created a festive mood in the town. A lot of money got transferred from one hand to the other. The shopkeepers got a share of it. Shopkeepers, hawkers, beggars, the government servants did share something. Lakhs of rupees were coming out of the tendering business. It got spilled over to the villagers who spent that money in buying new dresses for their family members. They bought so many household goods for the family.”(Fakirmohan p31)

2) Stage two is when the Gulia appointed more skilled people in restarting the production process. He worked as the main person to monitor the activities. The next person was the Padhi who selected the area for creating the Chulla for producing the salt. The length of Chulla remained almost 30 to 40 feet. The height remains almost 5to 6 feet. The arrangement for cooking was done by putting the pots one above the other. All these pots were provided by the potter community. In one shift the production of salt went up to twenty to twenty-five mounds. In a day three times the cooking of salt happened. Some hardworking Padhis went for the fourth time.

3) The next stage was critical as the senior officials selected the soil on the sea shore which came regularly in tidal waves and while receding the salty soil was left behind. This salty soil was the most expensive which got collected by the workers and where this soil got stored known as Badi. In this Badi more sea water got mixed up and workers manually stirred these Badis.

4) Next to Badis the well got dug up which was known as Kundi. The melted soil started burning with the grass got pushed into it from Badi to Kundi.

This was similar to collecting wine from the palm trees where the plantain leaf was pushed into it. Water drops fell down from Kundi and only soil was left out in Badi. The water (Dahapani) turned into precious raw material as it got processed into Pangaluna. While fire burning around the Chulla there are eight to 16 people working around the Chulla. There were hundreds of Chullas working at the same time. Imagine the number of workers involved in the whole process.

5)Making Salt in the Chulla wood was not required but the type of grass got burnt which was locally available on the sea coast. Kalua an official was in charge in collecting the grass.There was special sickle to cut these grasses which was not a skilled work and only those could cut the grass not others, once this grass cut and bundles of dry grass got carried by the bullock carts. This dried grass transported by the bullock carts. To protect the grass a special category officer got appointed. Hundreds of bullock carts and their owners got engaged in transporting these grasses to the Chullas.

Once the Padhi was done its work related to the production of salt which was measured by the District officials which got reported in the official form:

District Collector’s control :

The District Collector as the Salt agent came to take the weight of the salt produced by the Gulia. The Padhi prepared an official papers with details and sent it to the District Collector.

District Collector’s Form

Name of the Order---Nama Bati ----Nama Gulia-----Kete kala (the number of Times) ------ Amount of salt
Chhanua ---------------Kulinga -------Hagu Malik -----Tini kala----------------------------------80 mounds

It seems that the production system was controlled by the District Administration: starting from license permit to total production. Salt produced in Golas was stored in warehouse. Only copy of the records reached the District Administration. The salt production started once more in the months of summer . With the starting of rains the whole production system stopped. All those working in the salt production got paid before going homes during the rains.

The pilferage was very much an organized one where the officials got involved in siphoning salt. There was a system of plundering by the Daroga, clerks and guards, policemen and other government servants who were involved in the pilferage of salt and sold at lower-price and distributed among themselves. The stolen salt went to Mayurbhanja and Nilagiri of the Garajat region.

The Daroga used to come for supervision in a Palki which was being carried by eight Behera belonging to Gopal caste and one holding an umbrella over head of Daroga.

Total production and distribution by ships:

The production of salt amounted to 9 lakh mounds from Balesore. The consumption of the whole district came around one and half lakh mounds . Around seven lakh mounds of salt went to Bengal which used to go to warehouse of Bengal located nearer Calcutta next to river Ganga. From Balesore port all these salt got exported by the ships. There were three hundred ships to carry the salt. The big ships named after Gorapa and the smaller one named after Slopa. The big ship carried ten thousands mounds of salt. To manage the ship there was a staff of ten to fifteen people. The captain named after Majhi and his junior Tandei and others are Khalasi. Total number of people working in the ships came to four thousand five hundred. Besides those managing the ships in the production unit belonged to people as carpenters, blacksmiths, Kalapathia, Sadasilai, Daraji (tailors) and manual unskilled servants were around five thousands of people. All of them hailed from Balesore. Those owners and traders associated with the ships were from Balesore. These ships used to go to various parts of India like Vishakhpatana, Madras, Rengoon and other islands.

Other name of Balesore :

Balesore was famous for rice and salt. One third of its population used to depend on with salt production and shipping business. All these activities got organized at the port of Balesore located at the mouth of river Budhabalanga. This was a crowded spot of the district which turned into a graveyard after the closure of the salt industry. All these people involved in the production and distribution activities were not present and they had probably disappeared during the great famine of 1866.

The license for production of salt got cancelled in 1861. With the request of citizens’ Committee of the district, the administration allowed the production of salt in a limited way for consumption of the people of the district. The Mahajans got ruined in the process of closing these industries.

The unit of production of salt was costing Rs 2 and out of five Anna was taken by the government and one and 11anna were left with the chulia. The prosperity of the district depended on business and trading supported by agriculture. It was never depending on agriculture alone.” District of Balesore was the cradle of Lakshmi and with the failure of agriculture for more than two years could not disturb the people of the district. Today ten percent of city people go hungry every day. The middle class lived in a precarious manner. The underlying economic reason behind the economic plight was the shortage of money. With the death of salt production, the artisans’ class had died. The business class had disappeared. From foreign states the Marwaris, Kutchi, Bhatia and Nakhodi had captured the market. Indigenous business class without money could not give a fight against these foreign business communities. “ (Fakirmohan pp35-36)

There are many theories of famine. One of them explains the famine as the lack of rain resulted in failure of rice production. As Prof Amrtya Sen argues that it is not failure of production but distribution create hunger related deaths due to famine.(Sen 1981) Fakir Mohan adds another dimension explaining the phenomenon of famine that the transportation of rice by bullock carts from the villages to the railway station did not explain the prosperity of the peasantry but their grief stricken conditions.”(Fakirmohan p36) In their homes one finds the absence of rice’ as they were forced to sell the only grain they produced for their survival as they had no other source of income for leading their everyday life. Answer to the problems of famine and distress of the peasantry could be answered by the government by opening of the ‘production of salt industry. This was absent in Odisha and absence of small scale industries caused unemployment and pushed the peasantry to migrate out for works.

Two-legged economy of Odisha got ruined and started working on one legged which is unstable and tottering till today. Agriculture is not getting the support of the small scale of industry which would usher in a prosperous Odisha.

The colonial state and its discriminatory policy:

The colonial state pursued a discriminatory policy towards Odisha and encouraged the well known British Company in the domain of salt production. With the closing of the Salt industry by not allowing to get a license for producing salt which killed the prosperous industry of Odisha. They encouraged the English Company informally to start salt production in the Western India. It officially started a little late. It seems that colonial state did not pursue an industrial policy in an honest manner. They encouraged the laissez-faire policy in the case of textile and in the case of salt they went for the intervention of the state.

The original company was formed as a partnership in 1873 (becoming a limited company in 1881) by John Brunner and Ludwig Mond. They built Winnington Works in Gujarat. .. The same year, it made another crucial acquisition Brunner Mond for Rs798 crore. Tata Company bought the salt company in 1939 from the British company and doing its business today.

(Author: Prof. Radhakanta Barik, retired Professor from the Indian Institute of Public Administration)


  • Arindam Banerjee, Chirashree Das Gupta, Surajit Mazumdar, 2015 “ Historiography sans History: A response to Tirthankar Roy, Economic and Political Weekly, Aug 29
  • Irfan Habib 1969 “Potentialities of Capitalistic Development in the Economy of Moghul India,” Journal of Economic History, No29 pp32-79
  • Fakir Mohan Senapati, Balesore Pangalun in Fakirmohan Granthabali,: Galpamala, 2020 (ed) Kailash Pattnaik, Friends’ Publishers, Cuttack
  • Amartya Sen, 1981 Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, Oxford, New Delhi
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