Cost, labour shortage plague idol makers

Sep 14, 2011, 08:57 IST | Mumbai

Rising prices of raw materials used for making idols and the exodus of labour to other states have badly hit Kolkata's traditional potters' colony

Rising prices of raw materials used for making idols and the exodus of labour to other states have badly hit Kolkata's traditional potters' colony

The city's traditional potters' colony Kumartuli that churns out around 5,000 images of the mother goddess each year is battling skyrocketing prices of raw materials that are used to make Durga idols.

Potters say the prices of wood, bamboo, straw, paints and cloth have soared significantly.

Ready for puja: An artist adds the finishing touches to an idol of
Vishwakarma, god of architecture, in Siliguri yesterday. pic/afp

"On an average, raw material cost has increased by 40 per cent this year compared to the last season. This has badly affected our business," Kumartuli Palli Unnayan O Adhikar Rakkha Committee (Kumartuli Area Development and Rights Protection Committee) chief whip Apurba Paul said.

"Our profit margin has suffered drastically as we cannot pass on the increase in raw material prices entirely to the customers," he said.

Another artisan Ram Paul echoed Apurba.

"Can you imagine a piece of bamboo, which we purchased for Rs 50 last year, is available at Rs 150 this year?" remarked 44-year-old Ram, sitting in front of a semi-finished clay statue of Goddess Durga.

Idol makers said good quality straw was beyond their reach because of very high prices.

Kumartuli Mritshilpi Samiti (Kumartuli Potters' Association) assistant secretary Bhabesh Paul said the artisans were not making profit as the increase in idol prices have not been commensurate with the rise in input costs.
"Day by day, the loans of artisans to private money lenders and banks are rising. They are unable to repay the money. Banks are sending notices. A few of them got involved in court cases also," he said.

Did you know
Kumartuli is the nerve centre of clay idol making in the city. Artisans supply idols of goddesses to community pujas across India and abroad

Labour exodus
The huge exodus of labour to states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar has posed another problem for the artisans.

Bhabesh Paul said, "They are getting very high wages. A high-skilled potter gets Rs 40,000 per month there. Even semi-skilled labourers get Rs 20,000 per month. We cannot match this. So the exodus will continue in future. We do not know how we can stop the trend," he said.

The wages of labourers in Kumartuli this year vary between Rs 150 and Rs 1,250 per day.

Most of the labourers come from West Bengal's Nadia and Murshidabad districts.

Raw materials
Even raw material cost of fibreglass Durga idols, much sought after by NRIs, has swelled by about 30 per cent this year compared to last year. Fibreglass idols are light, durable and easy to transport compared to those made of clay.

"We use three types of chemicals in making fibreglass idols. The prices of all three have soared unexpectedly.

Altogether raw material cost has increased 30 percent. Labour cost has also swelled by about 50 per cent," said Gopal Chandra Paul, who sent Durga idols to his clients in the US and Canada this year.

An idol sold for Rs 1 lakh to overseas buyers last year has fetched Rs 1.5 lakh this time, but the profit margin remained unchanged.


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