Handloom in Union budget: Lack of concern for the labour intensive and indigenous sector

Handloom Industry in India

Excerpt from the Delhi Solidarity Group report, “Union Budget 2018-19: Issues of Marginalized Sections”:

Budgetary allocations towards the handloom sector have witnessed one of the most severe cuts of the 2018-19 budget with the sector being allocated less than 2/3rds of what it got in the previous budget. However, this is not unexpected as cuts in the handloom budget started in the 2017-18 budget after a substantial hike in the preceding year. On an average, handloom allocations account for less than 10% of the total allocations made to the Ministry of Textiles. This share dipped to half the average in 2018-19, where handloom allocations accounted for only 5.5%. The rate of growth of allocations to the handloom sector, post 2016-17, has also been significantly less than those of the Ministry of Textiles and the Total Budget, displaying the government’s lack of concern with a sector which is both labour intensive as well as indigenous.

Sector Overview

Handlooms are an important sector in our country, employing over 6.5 million families Handloom products of our country are well known across the world. What is fascinating is that India, being a diverse country of multiple cultures, the handloom products are incredibly diverse as well. Each state has its own special weave, style, pattern and material that they produce with pride. Even within States there is a host of varieties due to different communities that reside within.

Weavers usually belong to specific communities that sustain their art and skill by orally preserving their traditional knowledge. Their handiwork is more than the product they create, it is also an economic / income generation activity that helps them feed their families.

Handloom products are not limited to the buying or selling of clothes/handicrafts/articles made by hand but it is also about the reciprocity of art and history amongst those who make it and those who buy it. The weavers and the workers who engage in this craft are traditionally skilled and have been doing the same work for generations, it is a matter of culture and pride for them.

One fourth of the total cloth production in the country is from the handloom sector. In terms of employment it ranks next to the agricultural sector. With the development of technology, power looms are providing increasing competition and handlooms are getting deprived. India is one of the few countries that has still a major sector which employs artisans who weave for a living and produce almost 40% of the cloth in the country.

However, lately it has become solely a means for survival due to the apathy of the government in preserving these traditions and these communities. With shrinking support systems, in terms budget allocation and policy implementation, weavers are forced to survive on local money lender on exorbitant interest rate. In a vicious circle of poverty, they usually caught up debt trap and ends in loss of human capital or suicides.

The Ministry of Textiles was established to ensure the welfare of the weavers and their livelihoods. This purpose of ensuring their welfare is then defeated when one closely observes the plight of the weavers’ communities, a reflection of which can be found in the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report. Discrepancies and irregularities in the implementation and its resulting consequences on the communities, the weavers have proposed to elect their own representatives from within their community to represent their issues at the national level.

handloomEarning Pattern of Handloom Weavers:

Daily average income of handloom weavers in 15 States/Territories is less than Rs.100 per day. This is less than the stipulated minimum wage per day. Handloom Weavers in Arunachal Pradesh earns Rs 161/day and in Punjab Rs 30/day. Daily earning of handloom weavers must be compared with minimum wage fixed by the Government of India.

Minimum wage rates vary in different sectors. Lowest minimum wage rate is in Agriculture. In Agriculture lowest wage for unskilled labour is Rs. 193 per day and lowest wage rate for highly skilled labour is Rs. 235 per day. Wage rate for others are higher. From the above it is clear that the per day earning of handloom weavers is less than that of the unskilled agricultural labourers. In Bihar for example, average earning of handloom weavers is one third of the minimum wage of unskilled agriculture worker.

To find reason behind low minimum wages in the handloom sector we can see the observations of CAG, publish in the year 2012, for the Kerala State Handloom Development Corporation Limited:

“The basic objective of the Company is to develop handloom industry. We, however, found that the benefits accrued to weavers were negligible.

· Though there were 6500 weavers registered with the Company, only 1200 to 1580 weavers (22 per cent) were active during the review period, indicating poor achievement of its social objective.

· As on 31 March 2011, the Company had 297 staff to support the activities of the weavers and to carry out other operations. We observed that for every rupee of sale, the weavers on an average received only 25 paise as against 37 paise paid to the staff of the Company. Further, average annual monetary benefit received by a weaver during the period was only Rs. 0.25 lakh as compared to Rs 1.58 lakh received by an employee.

“While accepting that low earnings of the weaver was the main reason for downfall in weaver strength, the Company stated that the wage of the weavers was fixed based on the industrial standards. It was also clarified that a proposal for semi-automation of production was submitted to Government for increasing the productivity and the earning capacity of the weavers. The fact, however, remained that the Company could not achieve the social objective which was to uplift the living conditions of the traditional weavers in the State.”

The earning patterns and its reasons are clear from the above reports. Nowhere do handloom weavers earn minimum wage prescribed in the Ministry of Labour & Employment Oder No 1 / 2 (1)/2014-LS – II dated 4th March 2014. Position of other states is clear.

handloom1The concerns of the handloom weavers have already been studied and countermeasures are proposed by several agencies including CAG to the Textile Ministry of Union and States. CAG in its report ‘Audit Report (Civil) for the year ended 31 March 2011’ states as follows:

“Various studies conducted by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (2002), State Government (2009-10) and Centre for Economic and Social Studies (2010) to ascertain the main problems faced by the weaver community and causes behind suicidal deaths of weavers had disclosed the following:

“1. Handloom weaving is a traditional and hereditary profession using traditional methods of production and designs due to lack of exposure, awareness and knowledge about changing consumer preferences, protection technologies and methods of marketing.

“2. Competition from products manufactured by power loom sector

“3. Meagre wages resulting in reluctance of younger generation to enter/continue the profession

“4. Steep increase in prices of hank yarn and chemicals and their non-availability

“5. Inadequate credit from financial institutions

“6. Inadequate marketing infrastructure

“7. Production related stress, occupational health hazards and lack of social security measures thereby making artisans vulnerable to distress and hence suicides.”

The above issues had not been addressed by the department/Government, resulting in the benefits of the scheme not fully reaching the intended beneficiaries. Incidentally, there were 251 suicidal deaths of weavers in the State during the years 2007 to 2010.

What Handloom weavers want?

There is a need for quick redressal of the conditions that are plaguing the workers. Keeping the above facts in mind, the following are the demands/suggestions/points that handloom weavers and handicraft workers would like to be raised and redressed in the Parliamentary sessions by the custodians of the Constitution of India.

  1. The purposes of the offices established for handloom sector should be fulfilled responsibly and without any fail.
  2. Without affecting budget provisions for other heads; additional budget should be allocated in budget heads.

Justification of Demand, as if needed:

  1. In national and international cultural festivals, the handloom products from India usually garner a lot of awe and fascination. The handloom products of our country are well known across the world and for that very reason, the traditional process of producing them and the people who do so should be helped in every manner to continue their work. What is even more fascinating is that India, being a diverse country of multiple cultures, the handloom products vary as well. Each state has its own special weave, style, pattern and material that they produce with pride. Even within States, there is a host of varieties due to different communities that reside within in. During the British rule and even after independence, Indian handloom weavers were able to afford education for their children but after adaptation of the market economy they have been unable to afford schooling and higher education despite the Handloom Reservation Act. The handloom weavers are being deprived of the resources that will help them to survive and continue their artisanal work. This deprivation is resulting in their migration to other occupations and they are being forced to give up their traditional art and knowledge. This is quite problematic because this is destroying their skills and turning them into unskilled labourers in other sectors. Their ability to be independent and become self-actualised gets lost due to the budget cuts and non-implementation of programs.
  2. There are 43 lakhs of handloom in India as per the handloom census 2010. One handloom is a source of livelihood for one family, i.e. handloom provides employment to nearly 1.24 Cr population.
  3. Handloom products are better in quality and durability.
  4. Handloom production is labour intensive occupation that saves electricity and utilizes human creativity for the people operating at low level of economy.
  5. Handloom sector is ecological friendly occupation and it gives strength to rural economy.
  6. At national level handloom sector requires budget less than subsidy given to Diamond and Gold Traders. Subsidy (Revenue Forgone) to diamond and gold industry is Rs. 44,926 Cr in 2014-15 and Rs. 61,126 Cr in 2015-16 (Ref. Receipt Budget 2016-17, page No 67, Union Budget). In the budget documents 2017-18, Revenue forgone for Diamond & Gold industry is not traceable but data of effective tax rate on “Diamond Cutting” is given at page 63, Receipt Budget 2017- 18. As per this document effective tax rate is 29.3% and Revenue receipt is Rs. 662.3 Cr in the year 2015-16. Reasons for omission and insertion of data is known to government; neither public nor our representatives are not told about it. Thereby, demand of handloom weavers is justified.
  7. Making extravagant to Gold & Diamond Industry and depriving Handloom leads to inflation and defeat the purpose constitution of India, e.g. Articles 38, 39 and 39A.
  8. Diamond and gold industry is sound and well in their occupation compared to handloom industry.
  9. Thereby, it is with grave concern that the government should look into the factors that are responsible for the deprivation of handloom weavers / handicraft workers.

Click HERE to read the full report

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