About 15 to 20 pickle manufacturers find themselves in a jam because of the three-month lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, exodus of migrant labourers and restrictions on transport, putting at stake thousands of jobs in Panipat, one of India’s biggest pickle manufacturing hubs.
As fruit procurement and processing had been hit over April to June, the best months pickle making, manufacturers were unable to gear up for demand that was starting to pick up during the unlocking.
They said it would take them a year to emerge from the havoc wreaked by the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with labour shortage and transportation restrictions being the biggest challenges in catering to demand across the country and in the US, UK and other countries.
“We depend on migrant labourers as the locals are not willing to work. We had to shut down production for more than two months as most of the labourers had gone home for Holi and were unable to return due to the lockdown,” said Pankaj Dhingra, owner of Pachranga Foods.
Even as orders were coming in from the US and other countries, “we face labour and transportation problems as train movement remains restricted,” he added.
Among other demands, manufacturers demanded relief from 12% GST on their products as labourers and farmers working for the industry had been affected by the pandemic.
“Pickles are like vegetables for the poor and taste boosters for the rich. Around 50% of our products are consumed locally and 50% is exported to different states and abroad,” said Jitender Juneja, owner of Popular Achar, reiterating the need for GST relief.
Om Parkash, in the pickle business since 1984, said government restrictions, including 12%GST had also hit manufacturers, which is why many of them were going out of business.
“There are problems with raw material procurement as farmers do not sell their products directly to the manufacturers and we have to buy it from traders,” he added.
A deserted outlet at Panipat.
Pickle outlets too were not getting enough footfall. “Like dhabas, pickle outlets also remained closed for three months during the lockdown. Even now, though the eateries are open no one stops to eat because of fears of contracting Covid-19,” said Rahul Dahiya, owner of a pickle shop on National Highway 44 near Gharaunda.
Chhattardhari, who ran an outlet on Jattal road in Panipat city and had 14 varieties of pickles in stock, including mixed, mango, lime, green and red chillies, amla, carrot, radish, turnip, onion and even garlic, but buyers were not turning up.
“My two sons are completing undergraduate studies and the younger one is in coaching classes in Kota, Rajasthan. Things have come to such a pass because of poor sales that I find it difficult to pay their fees,” said.