(April, 2007 Update)
Every year at Budget time the handloom industry waits to see if its importance in providing productive, low-investment employment in rural areas will be rewarded by the government of the day. Every year it is deeply disappointed that its potential is not recognized through policy measures and budgetary allocations. In 2005 there was a flurry of activity in the PMO and the Planning Commission, a Steering Committee was formed in the Planning Commission and was asked to give recommendations for policy on handlooms for the 11th Plan period. I was part of that Committee and this is a summary of the recommendations we drafted:
|After the recommendations were drawn up and submitted to the PMO nothing further was heard. Unlike the draft Education Policy which some years ago was offered for public discussion and comment, no draft handloom policy has been circulated. Though there have been stringent criticisms from the field and from academics on the working of the Cluster Development scheme, and repeated requests that other existing schemes be evaluated and modified where necessary, the Finance Minister’s Budget speech this year states that ‘an additional 100-150 clusters will be taken up in 2007-08’ and ‘the 12 schemes which are now implemented will be grouped into 5 schemes in the Eleventh Plan period’. In other words, there is nothing new, all is as before, and there is total disregard of dissatisfaction at the grassroots. Though the Steering Committee had in 2005 itself recommended a budgetary allocation of Rs 800 crores, the allocation in 2007 is only Rs 321 crores, and even this meagre allocation is spent according to the pre-ordained schemes of the Office of the Commissioner, Handlooms in Delhi, rather than on making handlooms sustainable.|
|This cannot be the way to move towards inclusive growth. To achieve inclusive growth, to address the shocking figures of child malnutrition in rural areas, we need large-scale and fast-paced expansion of economic activity that can provide large scale viable livelihoods producing marketable goods without disturbing the social fabric; without accelerating the migration from rural to urban areas. There is a finite quantity of financial resources that can be invested in this process. So we need to build on the resources that exist, such as the features of the handloom industry: existing or easily acquired skills, inexpensive infrastructure and low capital costs, and support these resources with developmental funding.
Even at its present low ebb the industry employs 6.5 million families in weaving alone, besides an equal number in warping, sizing, dyeing and tool-making. It produces a vast array of textiles of unique character and individuality, with tremendous marketability in both domestic and foreign markets. It is an area of expertise where everything that is needed for production is available within the country, so the export realization is 100%, unlike many mechanized industries that depend heavily on imported equipment or raw material.
The handloom industry needs the support that all industries expect from the Government, of high-quality research and training institutions and infrastructure. It needs specific marketing, systems development, product placement and market exploration during its growth and take-off phase. With a modicum of support where it counts, the industry can easily double and triple in size in both output and employment.