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Sunday, 5 June 2011

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Whither the traditional tile industry?


Female workers manufacturing tiles

A tile manufacturing industry

Workers at a factory



Minister Milroy Fernando

Thirty one-year-old Karunadasa who lives in a cadjan roofed house off Dankotuwa in the Puttalam District has a dream of constructing a new house and purchasing a lorry to transport tiles that he manufactures in his factory, while 64-year-old Kusumalatha wants to send her two advanced level qualified daughters to a private educational institute for higher studies. A 71-year-old retired village headman, Martin Karunapala wants the Government to extend them a helping hand to develop their tile manufacturing industry.

The Sunday Observer last week met with tile manufacturers in the villages of Dankotuwa, Waikkal, Muruthana, Gonawila, Marawila, Wennappuwa and Kochchikade areas to discuss with them about the current position of their life-long tile manufacturing industry.

A tile factory owner at Dankotuwa, J. N. Fernandopulle who was involved in the tile manufacturing industry for the past 40 years recalled the bygone era and said the industry has now declined to a great extent.

"There is no other alternative to protect the industry, other than the support of the Government.

He said that 25 years ago there was a great demand for tiles from customers.

"We even sent a large quantity of tiles to the Northern and Eastern province during the conflict period, but unfortunately sales have dropped now."

With the introduction of asbestos roofing sheets to the local market, people hardly use tiles.

"There is a heavy decline in our tile industry and unless the State gets involved, the industry will not show improvement,".

The owner of Chance Tile Factory at Thambarawila, Waikkal, A.S.D. Fernando said his Association met President Mahinda Rajapaksa before the election to discuss the problems faced by tile factory owners and the current position of the industry.

"Although he attentively listened to our grievances, we have not yet received any response from him.

We requested the President to reduce the import of asbestos manufacturing raw materials, expecting a rise in demand for our products again.

We also proposed authorities use at least 80 percent of tiles for future construction work in Government buildings such as schools, housing schemes etc."

He said the Government will construct a large number of houses in the terrorist affected areas of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Trincomalee and proposed the relevant Ministry to use a large percentage of tiles for these constructions rather than using asbestos roofing sheets.

A tile factory owner, Siri Perera said the Government should reduce the present tax imposed on clay. If so, they could sell other clay related products such as bricks, clay pots and other ornamental items at affordable prices.

He said tiles are graded into four categories and the first grade is used on roofs and the other grades are used in the construction of parapet walls and flower beds.

A tile trader Gemunu, proposed the Industrial Development Board to initiate a program to export tiles and other clay related products to foreign countries.

"I think countries such as Japan and Hongkong would like to buy our tiles and other clay related products,".

According to a tile factory owner Kamalsiri Peris, about 400 people are employed in the tile making industry in the Puttalam District and over 10,000 depend on the industry.

He said some 800 tile factories were there but this has now reduced to 300 due to the drop in sales.

Various kinds of tiles such as `Uro tiles' and `Roman tiles' are manufactured on the needs of buyers.

"We also manufacture painted tiles for the use of tourist hotels, guest houses and homes,".

A tile factory owner Sumanapala of Waikkal proposed the Government conducts exhibitions in Colombo, Katunayake, Kandy, Jaffna and other main cities for clay related product manufacturers to showcase and sell their goods.

He said without the Government's support the clay industrialists will not get a chance to develop the industry.He also proposed that President Rajapaksa visits his area and look into the grievances of clay industrialists. Puttalam District MP and Senior Minister Milroy Fernando told the Sunday Observer that he met tile industrialists recently and discussed with them their problems.

The Minister said President Mahinda Rajapaksa has directed him to extend fullest support to tile manufacturers.

"The Government has not isolated traditional industrialists as the objective of the Government is to protect the country's traditional industries and not close them,".

"We have also taken steps to meet tile manufacturers often to listen to their proposals and grievances".

The Minister said steps have also been taken to use tiles for State owned buildings, especially in the tsunami affected areas in the Northern and Eastern Province. The Government has already planned to construct houses, housing schemes and large buildings at various places in the country and hopes to use 70 percent of tiles and 30 percent of asbestos roofing sheets.

Minister Fernando said that they had to remove tiles and replace same with asbestos roofing sheets in some Government buildings in the rural sector due to the damage caused by monkeys to tiled roofs. He said he had spoken to Sri Lanka Tourism regarding the use of a large percentage of tiles in the construction of future hotels.

 

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