It had been a one-way street for Morbi ceramics manufacturers for more than three decades when everything was going their way. But suddenly things have started changing for the industry and now it seems it is a one-way street for the industry in the reverse direction. Troubles are coming in droves for the industry and there seems to be no end to them.
Latest negative news which has started hitting the industry badly is the ban by the Rajasthan government on export of feldspar chips from the state. The ban was actually imposed last year itself, but the ceramics industry in Morbi has started feeling the heat now.
Ban on feldspar lumps export ban
Last year in October on the eve of state elections, Rajasthan state government bowing to the pressure from the owners of the grinding units in the state, banned the export of feldspar lumps from the state for three years. The state Industries department too had recommended this earlier. Rajasthan had nearly 2500 grinding units, of which nearly 50% had downed their shutters due to poor business conditions and the ban can help to restart those units. Grinding units’ owners, since long, have been demanding the state government to allow export of only feldspar powder which is produced after grinding feldspar lumps, so that they can get enough business for their grinding units.
There are nearly 5,000 feldspar mines in the state and these miners had strongly opposed the demands of grinding units. The state government preferred to ignore the protests by the miners and instead decided to go with the grinding units. The ban will prevail for three years.
Feldspar is widely used in Walls and Floor Tiles (Glazed Tiles, Vitrified Homogenous Tiles, Fast Firing, Third Firing), Vitreous Porcelain–Tableware & Other Ceramic product, Enamelled Ceramics & Potteries, Soaps & Detergents, Paints, Paper, Cosmetics and Plastics. Feldspar is the second most important ingredient after clay in the making of ceramics. Before using feldspar in ceramics making, it is usually ground to the size of 150 to 250 mesh in grinding units. Ceramics industry requires extremely pure and finely-ground grades of feldspar.
Feldspar is a fluxing agent
In Ceramics Industry, feldspar is used as fluxing agent which facilitates softening, melting and wetting of batch constituents. The flux controls the degree of vitrification of the ceramic body during firing. Potash feldspar has technical advantages over sodium feldspar. After clay, feldspar is the biggest ingredient in the raw material batch for ceramic bodies. Typical feldspar contents are < 25% in earthenware, 25-35% in sanitaryware, 15-30% in whiteware, 10-55% in floor and wall tiles and 30-55% in electrical porcelain.
Rajasthan is the main producer of feldspar
Usually, output of feldspar is obtained as an associated mineral during mining of quartz, mica and to some extent beryl. Bhilwara and Ajmer districts in Rajasthan and Mahabubnagar and Nellore districts in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, respectively, are the important mining areas in the country. Rajasthan accounts for 68% of India’s feldspar production. Another 28% of feldspar is produced in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Feldspar is also produced in small quantities in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Jharkhand. More than 60% of the feldspar produced in the country is used for pottery and ceramics making.
For Morbi ceramics makers the new development will be another addition to its growing list of problems. Buying directly from the miners in the form of lumps would have saved lot of cost for the buyers which is also easier to transport. With the entry of grinding units, procurement chain will be lengthened and also buyers would be facing uncertainty as to the quality of the powder.
Morbi’s supremacy under threat?
On the face of it, the problem appears to be of short term in nature but that’s not the case. Rajasthan has all the resources to become another ceramics hub and the present move seems to be a small step towards achieving that goal. “Rajasthan has in abundance, mineral resources but lacks in their end-use industry. As such the value addition or processing of the above mineral is done outside the State. The State is, therefore, deprived of the value addition in minerals as well as employment avenues to rural and backward classes. The State shall now make efforts to attract mineral based industry into the State to add value and increase economic activity,” says the state’s Mineral Policy which was released in 2015.
The State Government has offered to provide infrastructure facility and give financial support to mineral-entrepreneurs so that Ceramic Hubs are established. Bikaner, Nagaur and Udaipur regions have potential to become ultimate Ceramic Hubs.
Indeed, Morbi has the locational advantage of being closer to the biggest market including international market due to its proximity to ports and is well connected by all modes of transportation. But the Rajasthan government’s move provides a new avenue for the potential investors and is also attractive due to its proximity to North Indian market and abundant availability of raw materials.
Above all, if the per capita consumption of tiles in India is any indication, potential for growth for the industry in India is also huge which can accommodate few more clusters like Morbi in the coming years. If Rajasthan is able to attract more units it may help the industry to grow both volume-wise as well as geographically.