Dr. Sohail Ansari
Most people associate Mauripur with an airbase but salt works is another reason for its fame. It was named after Mr Mauri, the first Salt Revenue Officer who knew the industry well. Some sources quote him as an expert on salt who established the first salt pens of Karachi. The salt works were opened in Mauripur in 1878. The British rulers awarded over 500 acres of land for the salt industry. Nearly 175 acres of land were subdivided into small plots. The area was considered to be isolated in those days. Grax salt works, Lakshmi salt and Nusserwanji salt were the main players during the later British era.
After 1843, British rulers offered the land to their supporters of Sindh near Mauripur. But they rejected the offer thinking they will not be able to survive in the isolated area. Then the British officials extended the same offer to Noonari families, who lived and collected salt there. Just remember that these are not salt mines but it is produced with other techniques. Salt was processed through the spread via evaporation and then heaped into mounds in that era. Salt pans with 8-foot embankment as protection against the high tides are seen here. The tide waters rose and fell alternatively in this area. The brine was brought up from the wells, sunk alongside the pans, and allowed to be evaporated. The salt was scrapped with wooden scrapers, was washed by salt water from the wells and then stored in conical heaps. I do not know how do they do it now. I read somewhere that an estimated approximately 20,000 tons of salt is produced here every month, with an average monthly turnover of Rs 6 million. Some 250 workers earn a livelihood in this area; and these were the figures from 2004. The salt works were developed to meet the industrial and domestic requirements of growing city. In 1940’s large quantities of this salt was sent to Bengal. The main buyers in the recent years have basically been the local traders who grind the salt to sell it in small packs to food industries. Taxation of salt in India occurred very long ago. It was greatly increased when the East India Company came in.
The stringent salt taxes imposed by the British were vehemently condemned by the Indians and ultimately resulted in Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha in 1930. A news report from April 1930 was: ‘FIERCE rioting broke out at Karachi during the trial of six Nationalists and leaders of the Indian Congress party for violation of the Indian salt laws. A mob of 10,000 people, of whom the majority were members of the Workers’ Unions and students, besieged the court, smashed all the windows with stones, broke through the police cordon, and wrecked the courtroom and offices. The mob then attacked motor cars and trams, and stoned the occupants, many of whom they injured. The police made numerous baton charges without effect, and eventually opened fire, wounding nine, of whom one died later. The crowd still refused to disperse, and British troops were called out, and order was restored. Twenty six persons were injured in the baton charges and by stones. There is a general strike of scavengers, and dock-workers, as a protest against the trial of their leaders.’