BARPETA, April 19 � Production of bell metal utensils at Sarthebari in Barpeta district is likely to decrease this year as the artisans associated with it have gone on an indefinite strike under the banner of the All Assam Bell Metal Utensil Artisans� Association, demanding an enhancement of making charges against the product. As the row between the artisans and the sellers-cum-suppliers of raw materials (locally known as mahajans) has continued for the last one month, there is no end in sight of the continuous strike which is likely to affect the industry and the economy in the days to come.
An office-bearer of the artisans� association informed that they have been demanding a hike in making charges for different products due to the increase in the price of charcoal, the fuel used in melting the metal. Their demand is very much legitimate as after the enhancement of the price of the charcoal, nothing remains at present rate of making charge of the utensil. He also cited the sky rocketing price of essential commodities in the market.
Bell metal utensils are produced in a peculiar system in which mahajans supply the raw material to the artisans and they give the products to the mahajans after receiving the making charges. The Asom Samabay Kahar Sangh is also a party to it . They also patronise some artisans with the same system. Normally change in the rate of making charge is affected after the Sarthebari fair, the annual closing season of the industry. But this year neither the mahajan nor the Sangh declared any enhancement in spite of increase in the price of the charcoal. So the artisans� association had to resort to the path of agitation.
Meanwhile, the Assam Samabay Kahar Sangh has acceded to the demands of the artisans� association and has increased the making charges. But the private suppliers-cum-buyers are yet to take a decision. It is not possible for the Kahar Sangh to maintain and manage all the artisans and hence simply meeting the demand by them will not solve the problem.
The production units known as garshals are closed for the last one month and if the private suppliers do not meet the demand, it is likely to continue further. Faced with multiple problems like shortage of raw materials, price rise of raw materials, lack of proper marketing and supply of ordinary goods of the same appearance in the market, this age-old cottage industry is facing a stiff challenge. In spite of hard labour, the artisans have to live in abject penury. If they are forced to keep away from work for a long time, their condition will further deteriorate. Shortage of supply of indigenous products will also cause economic loss and replicas of industrialised product is surely to intrude the market.
The stakeholders are seeking a resolution of the problem through amicable dialogue in the greater interest of the Assamese society.