Crisis Looming Over Handlooms: Six Relief And Revival Measures That Can Help The Sector Tide Over The Impact Of Covid-19
Since mills are under lockdown, yarn supplies have come to a grinding halt, hitting the handloom sector severely.
Consequently, both the master weavers and cooperative societies have been unable to provide work to the weavers working for them since 10 March 2020.
Here’s how the government can help.
The handloom sector provides livelihoods to more than 31.45 lakh households, according to the Fourth All India Handloom Census (2019-20).
Out of 45 lakh engaged in this sector, a vast majority belong to backward, scheduled caste and scheduled tribe communities.
The handloom sector is one of the worst-hit sectors because of the lockdown.
Handlooms depend upon mills for their hank yarn supplies and then compete with them in the market.
Since mills are under lockdown, yarn supplies came to a grinding halt, hitting the handloom sector severely.
Consequently, both the Master Weavers (who are private operators) and Cooperative Societies have been unable to provide work to the weavers working for them since 10 March 2020.
As raw materials simply disappeared from the market, the Master Weavers and Cooperative Societies could not provide regular work to the handloom weavers and allied workers.
The shutdown of Spinning Mills and Silk Reeling Units has become a death blow to the hand-weaving industry.
Handloom weavers, even before the spread of the pandemic, are leading a hand-to- mouth existence.
The fourth All India Handloom Census has brought to the fore the plight of handloom weavers and their meagre earnings.
Around 67 per cent of the weaving households are earning less than Rs 5,000 per month, another 26 per cent are earning between Rs 5,001-10,000, and only about 7 per cent of the weaving households are able to earn above Rs 10,000.
The lockdown and consequent shut down have led to massive unemployment of weavers, and they were forced to borrow at exorbitant rates even for their very subsistence.
Handloom products and handicraft products have a huge export market.
Handloom exports in 2018-19 stood at Rs 22,80.18 crores.
Export markets are now closed. With the closure of both domestic and export markets and non-availability of yarn supplies, the lives of weavers became more precarious than before and are likely to face severe starvation in the coming few weeks unless remedial measures are not initiated.
Relief and revival measures:
1) The supply of free ration of food grains, pulses, edible oil, and grocery items for at least the next three months and compensating Handloom Weavers and artisans for wage loss. It may be necessary to start community kitchens in significant handloom clusters (where a good number of weavers are migrants from other handloom centres) to prevent starvation deaths in the coming few months.
2) Procuring 450 million kg of hank yarn from spinning mills under Textile Control Orders and Essential Commodities Act and 24,000 tonnes of Silk Yarn from Central Silk Board and State Silk Boards, apart from supplying them to the Handloom Weavers through NHDC depots.
Handloom weavers require different counts of yarn in different quantities. If one is weaving lower counts (between 30-39 count,) around 40 kg of yarn are required per loom per month. For weaving above 40 counts, 10 kg are required per loom per month.
For weaving silk fabrics, 4kg of silk yarn are required per loom per month. For woolen fabrics, the requirement is 50 kgs in the case of below 10sNM Counts, 10 kgs in the case of 10 to 39sNM, and 4kgs in the case of 40sNM and above.
Neither master weavers nor the co-operatives can procure the required quantum of yarn in the required count at present. Hence, the government must step in and provide handholding to handlooms and artisans in this critical situation.
3) The government must seriously consider the reintroduction of Janata cloth scheme both as a means to supply Janata sarees and dhotis to the people below the poverty line and to guarantee assured employment to the weavers under MGNREP.
This measure will go a long way in alleviating the marketing difficulties of the handloom sector.
The 1985 Textile Policy shifted the burden of producing Janata cloth entirely to the handlooms from the mills, and the former rose to the occasion.
4) Extending loans to the handloom weavers under MUDRA scheme at 3 per cent rate of interest through commercial and rural banks and providing the necessary amounts for members of co-operatives towards their share capital contribution so that they become eligible for utilising funds under NABARD Refinance Scheme will help the sector overcome its working capital requirements.
5) The co-operatives, both at the village level and the apex level, are burdened with unsold stocks of finished fabrics. There is no other way except to procure accumulated stock from the cooperatives as well as registered master weavers and NGOs to rescue the sector.
6) The tax burden on the handloom sector at present is rather heavy. The weavers are paying GST on yarn, dyes, and chemicals, and the consumers are paying on finished fabrics.
Providing tax relief and fiscal concessions are the need of the hour to overcome the biggest ever slump in the aggregate demand.
The above measures are to be taken up urgently to strengthen hands of thousands of handloom weavers in the country and give momentum to the “Vocal for Local” campaign.
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