The prospecting of a unique form of granite brings prosperity to three obscure villages.
UNTIL two decades ago, RL (Rajupalem-Lakshmi) Puram, Ramatheertham and Chimakurthi, situated almost 25 kilometre from Ongole on Kurnool Road, were obscure villages. Things suddenly changed when a unique form of granite was discovered in the 1,000 acres of land contiguous to these villages. The hard rock, which yields a shining black surface with copper-coloured spots when polished, transformed the poor villages with no irrigation facility to speak of, into a hub of economic activity. The villages contained an estimated 8.6 million cubic metres of the lustrous granite, aptly named black galaxy. The villages' turn to prosperity was unstoppable as they began to witness hectic mining activity.
As many as 41 quarries have come up in this small area to mine 3.5 lakh cubic metres of granite a yearworth Rs.450 crore. The quarries engage 20,000 workers who work with compressors, excavators, tippers, dumpers, loaders and cranes. Heavy vehicles carry the boulders to the Surareddypalem railway station, 35 km away, for onward transport to Chennai from where the granite is shipped to China and Italy. Some 500-odd polishing units engaging 12,500 people have been set up in the district. The polished slabs are sold in the local market. An estimated 5,000 people find employment in shops selling spare parts, diesel outlets and so on.
About 90 per cent of the mined rock is exported as raw material. China alone accounts for 70 per cent of the exports. Strangely, China, which buys the boulders from India bearing the huge transport cost, is able to polish the stone and sell the slabs all over the world at prices cheaper than those offered by Indian polishing units.
According to Galaxy Granite Owners Association president Sidda Hanumantha Rao, the Chinese government provides incentives such as cheap power to polishing units. Also, the cost of labour in China is cheaper. The polishing units in China work with much less overheads than the Indian units. Chinese units spend only Rs.2 a square feet on consumables as against Rs.21 spent by Indian units. After facing stiff competition from China in the international market, the local units adopted some austerity measures and brought down their consumables cost to Rs.7. The consumables, such as drilling rods and bits, are imported from European countries.
Yet there is a need for the government to identify the consumables and get them produced in the small-scale industries to bring down the cost further, Hanumantha Rao feels.
He pointed out that the miners have reached a depth of 150 feet now. As they go deeper, the production cost will increase and profits will decline. The quarry owners are mechanising the mining operations in order to stabilise the production cost.
The weakening of the dollar against the rupee has dealt a severe blow to the granite units. The owners are unable to increase the price of granite owing to competition in the international market. The situation has turned worse as the transport cost has increased by 1.5 per cent during this period.
Hanumantha Rao said the granite industry would reach the break-even point if the dollar fell further. He expects some sops from the government to tide over the crisis.