The announcement to set up seven mega textile parks in the Union Budget 21-22 is considered a great move towards making India a sought-after textile and apparel outsourcing hub, a distinction it has been consistently losing out to the likes of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and of course China.
However, the Indian textile industry, which employs 4.5 crore people, also includes 35.22 lakh handloom weavers. Stakeholders of the handloom industry say that the setting up of textile parks will not help in pulling the handloom weavers from the clutches of unemployment and poverty.
"The textile parks are a good step towards regulating the industry, but it's more for the export market. They are not meant for weavers. As far as the handloom weavers are concerned, not much concern has been mentioned anywhere in the budget. More than 50 per cent of the members of the craft industry consist of women and yet it has been ignored," points out Jaya Jaitly, Founder, Dastkari Haat Samiti.
The handloom weavers were among the worst impacted during the coronavirus lockdown, with sales dipping to the tune of 60-70 per cent. Buyers who had placed orders with weavers went back on their commitment as there was no demand for their products and the weavers ended up with heaps of unsold inventory.
Even today, the handloom industry is at just 25-30 per cent of pre-COVID levels. "Since the weavers didn't own the fabrics, they couldn't sell them. Most of these weavers work on trust, and now we are pushing them not to take orders until they are offered a substantial advance," explains Pavithra Muddaya, Co-Founder, Vimor.
Most state governments have offered measly compensations to the weavers, which hardly suffices to take care of their daily needs. "The handloom weavers need help to survive, they need help with designs. They don't need infrastructure," Muddaya further adds.
The bulk of handloom weavers prefer working in their respective homes on their own looms. Infrastructure intimidates them, says Development Consultant Anuradha Pati. The government has created common facility centres in several weaving clusters such as Kota and Pochampalli and most of them are unfrequented.
"They only go to the facility centres to attend the cooperative society meetings. The government should instead help them by giving them extended credit or design support," says Pati. The textile parks, according to Jaitly, would make sense for the weavers only if companies set up facilities there and give employment to the weavers.
Macherla Mohan Rao, President, National Federation of Handlooms and Handicrafts, wonders why the government isn't giving production-linked incentives to the handloom sector. "The government of India is not able to comprehend the domestic potential of handlooms. The overall handloom market in India is Rs 2.40 lakh crore, out of which only Rs 2,000 crore is exported, the remaining is sold in India. The government should have increased the budget allocation for the handloom and handicraft sector."
While the bulk of stakeholders feel that the Centre has ignored the needs of handloom weavers, Khitish Pandya, Founder EcoTasar and EcoSareeClub, has a contrarian view. He believes the textile parks could help in providing employment to a lot of marginalised weavers who are struggling to meet ends. "This would mean that there will be fewer weavers left and it will help to get better remuneration. Their produce will have a higher premium attached to it," Pandya adds.