Author: Shivangi Agrawal 

The Centre has scrapped the All India Powerloom Board and Jute Advisory Board right after scrapping of All India Handloom Board on July 27. All India Handicrafts Board and Cotton Advisory Board on August 3 were also scrapped by the Office of the Development Commissioner of Handlooms. This move aimed to achieve its vision of “minimum government with maximum governance”and leaner government machinery and the need for systematic rationalization of government bodies. This decision happened just a few days before the 6th National Handloom Day on August 7, which was observed in the country very widely, with social media pooling over with photos of people flaunting themselves with handloom products. The date was chosen to mark the Swadeshi movement that was launched on this day in 1905. There was a sudden boost in the industry when Gandhiji made khadi the symbol of Indian freedom struggle embodying the principle of self- reliance and cultural heritage. He also aimed to employ large mass of rural people through this industry.

All India Handicrafts Board was first established in 1952 by Pupul Jayakar and chaired by Kamaladevi Chhatopadhyay, All India Powerloom Board in November 1981, and All India Handlooms Board later on January 23, 1992. The Boards played a vital role in advising the government on formulating policies in their respective areas and also provided employment,ensuring higher living standards for weavers. According to the Fourth All India Handloom Census, 31.45 lakh households in India engaged in handloom, weaving, and allied activities, which makes it the second-largest source of employment after agriculture in India.[1]

The sources follow that the boards have failed to make policy plans substantially and have become politically dominated with the emergence of middlemen culture, hardly benefit the weavers. The employees of ministries have also been removed from the Boards, and independent officers have to look for the thriving conditions at the district and state level. The textile ministry website shows that the term 121-member handloom board expired in 2018 and that of 65-member handicrafts board in 2015, and they have been vacant since then.[2]

The status of Textiles Research Association has also been changed by August 6 notification to ‘approved bodies,’ which were earlier recognized as ‘affiliated bodies,’ which means that “any disposal, sale, transfer of assets created out of Central government will require the specific approval of the Ministry of Textiles.” The eight TRAs with changed status are the South India TRA in Coimbatore, Northern India TRA in Ghaziabad, Ahmedabad Textile Industry Research Association, Bombay TRA, Synthetic and Art Silk Mills Research Association in Mumbai, Man-made TRA in Surat, World Research Association in Thane and Kolkata-based Indian Jute Industries’ Research Association.[3]

Activists have criticized the move in this field as this would deprive the weavers and craftsperson to raise their voices in the absence of any platform. One of the activists Jaya Jaitly, Founder and President of DastakariHaat Samiti,who played a crucial role in setting Delhi Haat as a permanent space for artisans, however, supported the step saying that it was good that Boards have been scrapped as they had become useless since the 1990s. It would be better to bring a more appropriate forum in its place in line with the Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign that would be more effective, dynamic, and flourishing.

There have been several instances of uncertainties of employment among weavers amid COVID 19 lockdown.The industry is present mostly in rural areas and carried out from home itself. The hats, bazaars, exhibitions all came to a standstill with the lockdown, and the central part of their income succumbed.After the National Rural Livelihood Mission, a large number of SHGs were engaged in this business. The sector also endorses India’s soft power through ‘Saree diplomacy’ or ‘Khadi diplomacy’ to mark the work of weavers at a global platform promoting Indian culture and traditions.  The Northeast Expo 2019 under the aegis of ‘tea and khadi’ diplomacy is also a way forward furthering ties with BIMSTEC and ASEAN nations.[4]

While our Hon’ble PM Narendra Modi strongly emphasized on the idea of “Vocal for Local” along with the launch of glorious “Atma Nirbhar bharat Abhiyaan” on this Independence Day, it seems the weavers have been left on their own to become “Atmanirbhar.” There seems a sharp irony amid the Vocal for Local call and scrapping of Handloom Boards. The handloom industry has not stood up to the dreams of Gandhi as the nation failed to protect its utmost sanctity. Soon after independence, the industry started declining due to the imitation of handloom products. The Ashok Mehta Committee[5] was appointed in 1964 suggested that sarees production should exclusively remain under the handloom sector. Next came in the Sivaraman Committee[6] that pointed out that each powerloom is replacing six other handlooms and thus, leading to massive scale unemployment. The suggestions of both the Committee resulted in the enactment of the Handloom Reservation Act, 1985[7]. Even after the passing of legislation, the industry failed to flourish because of subsidies and tax evasion policies that led to a subsequent increase in powerlooms in the sector. The cheap imitations, depletion of natural resources, availability of chemicals in place of indigo, replacement of natural materials (turmeric for the yellow color, charcoal for black, leaf pigments for green, etc.) with synthetic dyes are additional obstacles to the sector. In other words, the originality, sanctity, and purity of the products have lost amidst the smog of industrialization. There has been a rampant decline in the worker population in the handloom industry. Large numbers of them are migrating to urban areas in search of alternatives. In addition to the Act of 1985, the government brought Handloom marks in 2000, the Geographical Indications Act in 2003[8], the All India Handloom Board again in 2015, which stands dissolved now.

What can be expected after so many reactions and reasons are that although the decade long Boards have been pulled down, the government would come up with new replacements soon with a better and robust mechanism that would open a pool of opportunities to the people involved in the handloom sector? The identity of India lies with its culture and heritage. The three pillars on which India stands are democracy, diversity, and development. We must not forget one at the cost of another. It is the rich heritage and diversity of India that would pave its way to become ‘Vishwaguru.’ The real development would come when the last person in the country would be benefited. This is the India of Gandhi, whose mission was to ‘Wipe Every Tear from Every Eye.’ It is strange to even think of the country developing while the large section of its population remaining in poverty, hunger, and unemployment. While everything is going digital, there opens a vast opportunity for the government to give this sector digital push that would indeed attract more people and would also invite international participation and help realize the industry’s presence at a global level. Sanjay Rastogi, Development Commissioner for Handlooms, marks that a draft textile policy is under work, and soon, the discussions will be held to finalize it. There remains hope that the government would bring out something better for the handloom sector. At the same time, it still has a chance to revive the industry and retain the culture of India.

[1] The Hindu, Centre scraps All India Handloom Board, 11 August, 2020

[2] The Telegraph, Boards that gave artisans a voice scrapped, 23 August 2020

[3] The Wire, After Handloom and Handicrafts Boards, Centre Now Scraps Powerloom Board, 10 August 2020

[4] Indian Express, From Aatmanirbharta to Make in India: Strengthening India’s handloom sector, August 7 2020

[5] Government and Handloom and Powerloom Sector, https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/8769/12/12_chapter%203.pdf

[6] Siddharth, A Brief History of Handloom Reservation Act, http://ruralagrarianstudies.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Paper.pdf

[7]The Handlooms (Reservation of Articles for Production) Act, 1985, http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A1985-22.pdf

[8] Geographical Indications Act, 2003, http://extwprlegs1.fao.org/docs/pdf/gha168849.pdf

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