Tiles can floor marble

With property markets slowing, the demand for premium flooring is muted



For the marble industry in India, it is no more a smooth ride. The segment is facing hard times due to the weakness in the property market, especially the luxury segment, which has traditionally accounted for a good portion of demand.

The ever increasing competition from the tile industry has also dented the beautiful stone’s market share. Marble — still the preferred choice for home owners — is now primarily used in the ultra luxury segment, says Surendra Hiranandani, Founder and Managing Director, House of Hiranandani.

Tile preference

Property developers have been turning to tile-flooring of late, due to four main reasons. One, the cost of a finished marble floor is about ₹700 per sq ft — this is three-five times more expensive than good quality tiles. There is also ample availability of high-grade tiles, both imported and local, with a wide choice of shades and designs.

Two, the cost of laying marble floors is high and is increasing. Unlike a tile floor that is easy to install, laying a marble floor is a labour-intensive process. To get a shiny finish, the floor needs to be polished five to seven times using different grinding stones. As skilled labour costs are high and are on the uptrend, this can add up to 25 per cent to the overall flooring cost.

Three, the manual process also increases the time taken to complete the flooring. Non-availability of marble of your choice can add to delays. “Marble is a natural stone and it is not easy to get identical colour and quality. It becomes even more difficult when you have to procure material without much variation for a really large project,” says Hiranandani.

Four, the bulk of Indian marble demand is met through imports, causing price uncertainty. Italy is the primary source, accounting for nearly half of the supply in 2012-13. Turkey, which offers 80 types and 400 colours and patterns of marble, has a 22 per cent share of Indian marble imports. The price of imported marble has been on the uptrend.

For instance, Italian stone prices have risen 30 per cent in the last five years, touching €3,000 a tonne. Import duties, currency variations and delays in clearances add to the cost of imported marble.

Locally, marble is available in Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir and Gujarat, with Rajasthan being the primary source. The Indian Bureau of Mines estimates that the country has total reserves of 1,931 million tonnes of marble. Nearly 64 and 21 per cent of the known reserves are found in Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir, respectively. Overall, the Indian marble industry produced ₹1,600 crore worth of stones in 2011-12, according to data from the Ministry of Mines.

Rajasthan is home to 95 per cent of the total marble processing units in the country and a vast reserve of 1,100 million tonnes of good quality marble, according to the Rajasthan department of mines and geology.

The Bureau of Indian Standards classifies marble into 10 groups based on colour, shade and pattern and the State has all the varieties ranging from plain white to pink, green and brown marbles. One popular variety is the Makrana marble, mined from a village with the same name in Nagaur district, Rajasthan. About 56 million tonnes of deposit are estimated to be available in the 400 mines in the Aravalli range. Nearly 120 thousand tonnes of marble are estimated to be produced from the region every year.

Ravi Meghwal, CEO of RK Marbles, Makrana, says that the marble is exported to West Asia and Canada. There are no restrictions in exporting the stones.

Import issues

Even though local supply is available, it is not sufficient to meet the demand. This is especially true for white marble. Domestic demand is estimated at 48 million tonnes compared with local supplies of about 12 million tonnes a year.

Marble is imported from Germany, Italy, Afghanistan and Turkey, but there are restrictions. For instance, there is a licensing system with annual quotas that restrict the amount of imports. The current policy, which was notified in November 2014, limits the maximum import to six lakh tonnes and the minimum import price is set at $325 a tonne. The restrictions have been challenged by the European Union at the World Trade Organization.

Additionally, only units that have been in operation for five years as of March 2013 and have a cumulative turnover of over ₹5 crore during 2008-12 can import.

This is said to be hurting smaller players.

Price and outlook

Due to abundant supply and lacklustre demand, marble prices have remained subdued in the last five years, says Meghwal.

Even as imported unfinished marble costs increased, local distributors and manufacturers maintained prices due to low demand. Things may not improve in the near term and the share of marble flooring may continue to decrease, feels Hiranandani. Also, the industry is highly fragmented. This is limiting the pricing power of the stone miners and distributors.

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