The Business Standard features an intriguing anecdotal story about salt pan workers in Gujarat who now run their own company within the industry. Twenty-seven salt pan workers joined hands and efforts to form their own private company, called Sabras.
These workers hold 65 per cent stake in equity and are planning to raise it to 74 per cent. Of the three directors on board of Sabras, two are salt pan workers. The remaining 35 per cent in Sabras is held by Saline Area Vitalization Enterprise (SAVE), a public limited firm.
Besides, there are similar attempts on the anvil for onion and mango growers. Inspired by Sabras project, SAVE now aims to form another company called Veg-India where primary producers will have majority stake of 74 per cent. The producers of Sosiya village in Gujarat are in the process of joining hands in Veg-India for selling sweet kesar mangoes.
A board member of the company, Rajesh Shah (who is also a founder of the NGO Vikas), believes that this is the first time in India that people below the poverty line are one of the major stakeholders. At the same time, he notes that voluntary and nongovernmental organizations need to take notice of promising employment and wealth generation opportunities, and restructure themselves to meet these needs.
To me, the story highlights the fact that entrepreneurial spirit lies within all of India’s classes – a sort of parallel to the touted “American Dream.” If the right mechanisms and opportunities were made available to even manual laborers – such as salt pan workers – then perhaps stories like this would become even more common. And an added benefit is that these “rags to riches” stories signal the creation of a new class of people who have worked at all levels of a production chain.