Kolkata: The city`s famous potters` colony of Kumartuli is facing an acute shortage of hands to sculpt Durga Puja idols. Behind this labour scarcity is an unlikely culprit - the rural jobs scheme which has induced hundreds to stay back in their villages.
Costs of organising Durga Puja have gone up this year as more has to be shelled out on labour and raw material - in some cases jumping almost 50 percent. And Kumartuli, the nerve centre of the clay idol-makers, has taken a big hit.
"This year we have faced tremendous problems in securing labour from villages due to the 100-day jobs scheme of the central government. Due to this we have had to increase labour charges," idol maker Debraj Rudra Paul told IANS.
Artisans say the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has limited the number of people coming to the city in search of work.
Debraj said labour charges this year have gone up by at least 20 percent.
"If we earlier used to pay Rs.100 per day to labourers, now it is very hard to get any worker below Rs.120 per day," said Debraj, who employs 10-15 people to make idols at his unit.
Durga Puja festival starts in mid October and will flag off the festive season in eastern India.
Kumartuli (also spelt Kumortuli) is a traditional potters colony in northern Kolkata. The artisans here supply clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses to community pujas in not only Kolkata and its neighbourhoods but also other parts of India and abroad.
Around 100 artisans in the narrow Banamali Sarkar Lane in the area are racing against time to complete their work before the grand autumn festival begins Oct 14.
Rising input costs have added to the woes of the idol makers.
Babu Pal, a noted idol maker and secretary of the Kumartuli Mritshilpa Sanskriti Samity (Kumortuli Idol-makers` Cultural Association), said the cost of bamboo has almost doubled from Rs.50-55 a year ago to Rs.100-110 per piece this year.
The price of hay, used to stuff the idols, has shot also up from Rs.100 per bundle to Rs.180.
Paint prices have gone up by 20 percent on an average.
"The 100-day work programme and several other such programmes by the state government is keeping the villagers busy. Hence, we are not getting enough labour force this year. This crisis is pushing up labour costs," said Babu.
Babu`s association has 340 idol-makers.
Mantu Paul, another idol-maker, said the artisans are in a fix - how to pass on the increased costs to the customers, fully or partially.
Idol prices vary from Rs.10,000-Rs.100,000 depending on size and decoration.