Salt problems and Salt March

- Dr. Shubhangi Rathi*


After Bihar and Orissa, it's now West Bengal where people have resorted to panic buying of salt over rumours that it would disappear from markets. This panic buying led to its price hit an unprecedented high at Rs.100 per kg in Darjeeling. Inflation is the biggest problem in India. As per the media, every middle class person faces problems because of inflation. In November 2013, the State Government appealed to the people not to purchase salt from the black market by paying four to ten times its original price. Today such type of news makes us think of Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March.He wrote that the tax levied on salt in India has always been a subject of criticism. Aim of this paper is to make people aware about the importance and production of salt in India,as well as think about the reasons for Gandhi’s Salt March.


Salt is one of the basic elements of our body. Without saltwe could not exist for a moment. At the fundamental level of the physical body, we are a walking, breathing, salty ocean. It is the sodium present in salt that the body requires in order to perform a variety of essential functions. Salt helps maintain the fluid in our blood cells and is used to transmit information in our nerves and muscles. It is also used in the uptake of certain nutrients from our small intestines. The body cannot make salt and so we are reliant on food to ensure that we get the required intake.

Institute of Medicine recommends people to consume half a teaspoon of salt each day to get sufficient levels of sodium for the body. Sodium is an electrolyte that helps maintain muscle function and hydration. If sodium levels are not replenished, then there is a possibility that the blood pressure will drop which could make a person feel dizzy. So salt is needed by the body in order for it to function optimally. But one thing which should be kept in mind is that you should consume salt as needed and not over eat it.

Salt Production:

Salt production declined by 2.1% in 2012 versus the previous year due to lower US and Canadian volumes. Winter in North America was mild which caused decline in production. Several countries also supplied less salt to the world market in 2012, while there was no significant increase in output of any particular country or region. China is the leader in the market with 26.1% share. USA contributes 14.4% of the global volume. Germany, India and Australia add 6.6%, 6.1% and 4.2% to the number, respectively. Other producers are minor and do not influence the salt market.1

Salt is a Central subject in the Constitution of India and appears as item No.58 of the Union List of the 7thSchedule. Salt has been produced all along the Rann of Kutch on the west coast of India for the past 5,000 years.India is the third largest Salt producing Country in the World after China and USA. Global annual production being about 230 million tones. The growth and achievement of the Salt Industry over the last 60 years has been spectacular. When India attained Independence in 1947, salt was being imported from the United Kingdom & Aden to meet its domestic requirement. But today it has not only achieved self-sufficiency in production of salt to meet its domestic requirement but is exporting surplus salt to foreign countries. The production of salt during 1947 was 1.9 million tones which have increased tenfold to a record 22.18 million tons during 2011-12.

India exported salt to the tune of about 35 lakh tones during the year 2011-12. Other major countries importing salt from India are Japan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, South Korea, North Korea, Malaysia, U.A.E., Vietnam, Quatar etc.

Historical Background of Salt Tax:

Taxation of salt before British rule:

  • Salt is a commodity which has been taxed in India ever since the time of the Mauryas
  • Taxes on salt have been prevalent even during the time of Chandragupta Maurya.

Taxation of salt by the British East India Company:

  • In 1772, the then Governor-General Warren Hastings brought the salt trade once again under the Company's control.
  • In 1780, Warren Hastings brought the salt trade once again under government control.
  • From 1788 onwards, the Company took to selling to wholesalers by auction. On 1 November 1804, the British monopolized salt in newly conquered Orissa.
  • In the early 19th century, to make the salt tax more profitable and stop its smuggling,the East India Company established customs check points throughout Bengal.

Taxation of salt by the British authorities:

  • The taxation laws introduced by the British East India Company were in vogue during the ninety years.
  • In 1900 and 1905, India was one of the largest producers of salt in the world, with a yield of 1,021,426 metric tons and 1,212,600 metric tons respectively.
  • In 1923, under the viceroyalty of Lord Reading, a bill was passed doubling the salt tax.
  • The first laws to regulate the salt tax were made by the British East India Company.
  • In 1835, the Government appointed a salt commission to review the existing salt tax.

Effect of Salt Tax

The high price of salt madeit unaffordable to the common man resulting in a number of diseases arising due to iodine deficiency. Abhay Charan Das, in his ‘The Indian Ryot’ published in 1881, wrote:“Then again there is a still more wretched creature, which bears the name of labourer, whose income may be fixed at thirty-five rupees per annum. If he, with his wife and three children, consumes twenty-four seers [49 lb.] of salt, he must pay a salt duty of two rupees and seven annas, or in other words 7 ½ per cent income taxes. Now we leave it to our readers to judge, whether the ryots and the labourers can procure salt in the quantities they require. We can positively state from our own experience, that an ordinary ryot can never procure more than two-thirds of what he requires, and that a labourer not more than half.”

In South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi had written his first article on the salt tax in 1891 in the periodical The Vegetarian. He wrote in The Indian Opinion:'The tax levied on salt in India has always been a subject of criticism. This time it has been criticized by the well-known Dr. Hutchinson who says that 'it is a great shame for the British Government in India to continue it, while a similar tax previously in force in Japan has been abolished. Salt is an essential article in our dietary. It could be said that the increasing incidence of leprosy in India was due to the salt tax.' Dr. Hutchinson considers the salt tax a barbarous practice, which ill becomes the British Government.’

In 1909, Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his Hind Swaraj from South Africa, urging the British administration to abolish the salt tax.The Salt March, which took place from March to April 1930 in India was an act of civil disobedience led by Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) to protest against the salt tax levied by the British on Indian.

Salt March: Background

Britain's Salt Acts prohibited Indians from collecting or selling salt, a staple in the Indian diet. Citizens were forced to buy the vital mineral from the British, who, in addition to exercising a monopoly over the manufacture and sale of salt also exerted a heavy salt tax. Although India's poor suffered most under the tax, Indians required salt. Defying the Salt Acts, Gandhi reasoned, would be an ingeniously simple way for many Indians to break a British law nonviolently. British rule of India began in 1858. After living for two decades in South Africa where he fought for the civil rights of Indians residing there, Gandhi returned to India in 1915 and began working for India’s independence. Gandhi declared resistance to British salt policies to be the unifying theme for his new campaign of “satyagraha,” or mass civil disobedience.

Salt March: 1930

On 12th March 1930, Gandhi set out from his ashram, or religious retreat, at Sabarmati near Ahmedabad with several dozen followers on a trek of some 240 miles to the coastal town of Dandi on the Arabian Sea. There, Gandhi and his supporters were to defy British policy by making salt from seawater. All along the way, Gandhi addressed large crowds and with each passing day an increasing number of people joined the salt satyagraha. By the time they reached Dandi on April 5, Gandhi was at the head of a crowd of tens of thousands. He spoke and led prayers and early the next morning walked down to the sea to make salt.

He had planned to work the salt flats on the beach, encrusted with crystallized sea salt at high tide, but the police forestalled him by crushing the salt deposits into the mud. Nevertheless, Gandhi reached down and picked up a small lump of natural salt out of the mud―and British law had been defied. At Dandi, thousands more followed his lead, and in the coastal cities of Bombay (now called Mumbai) and Karachi, Indian nationalists led crowds of citizens in making salt. Civil disobedience broke out all across India, soon involving millions of Indians, and British authorities arrested more than 60,000 people. Gandhi himself was arrested on May 5, but the satyagraha continued without him.

On May 21, the poet Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949) led 2,500 marchers on the Dharasana Salt Works, some 150 miles north of Bombay. Several hundred British-led Indian policemen met them and viciously beat the peaceful demonstrators. The incident, recorded by American journalist Webb Miller, prompted an international outcry against British policy in India.

Salt March: Aftermath

In January 1931, Gandhi was released from prison. He later met with Lord Irwin (1881-1959), the then viceroy of India, and agreed to call off the satyagraha in exchange for an equal negotiating role at a London conference on India's future. In August of that year, Gandhi traveled to the conference as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress. The meeting was a disappointment, but British leaders had acknowledged Gandhi as a force they could not suppress or ignore.2


We can conclude that in the present scenario middle class and poor Indians are facedwithvarious problems related to price hike.Price hike or inflation is a necessary evil of a growing economy such as ours. This could be tamed through suitable and sustainable measures. It is the duty of the Indian Government and the Economists to bring it under control. The only alternative available is to throw away the neo-liberal model of growth and adopt a people centric development model. The need today is to apply Gandhian values in all aspects of life.

Notes and References

  1. Gandhi, Mahatma; Dalton, Dennis (1996). Selected Political Writings. Hackett Publishing Company.
  2. Gandhi, M. K. (2001). Non-Violent Resistance(Satyagraha). Courier Dover Publications.
  3. Hardiman, David (2003). Gandhi in His Time and Ours: The Global Legacy of His Ideas. Columbia University Press.
  4. Salt: 2020 World Market Review and Forecast to 2029
  5. Salt March
  6. The Gandhi Salt March

* Dr. Shubhangi Rathi is a Associate Professor & H.O.D. Political Science at Smt. P. K. Kotecha Mahila Mahavidyalaya, Bhusawal. Email: