Why India lacks a proper policy for textile industry
What will hundreds of artisans do as they grapple with varying turnovers, computer facilities and literacy levels?
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The last time a clearly discernible, printed and published policy was brought out by the ministry of textiles was 1985. It was a disaster for all but the manufacturers of polyester and other textiles made of synthetic yarns. Many tomes were written analysing and critiquing it.
It did not serve the artisan's agenda other than randomly scattered work sheds or subsidised spectacles in passing.
One of the many consequences of the policy was the influx of synthetic garments and saris that may have been convenient to "wash and wear" and the easy transition to power looms that were supplied with synthetic yarn.
However, it spelled dark days ahead for weavers used to weaving pure yarns, and worse still for the health of one's skin in our extremely hot climate.
Since then there has been no well-articulated policy for the entire textile sector that shows the proportion of attention and support given to mill fabrics (both private and national corporations ), power looms and handlooms, or the government's vision towards their balanced development of each.
If their income is below Rs 20 lakh, artisans are not eligible for GST registration; but they are liable to pay the tax of goods sold to their customers. Photo: India Today
Government-owned textile mills were sold off for real estate gains, unlicensed power looms proliferated and were stamped by private mills as their produce.
Handlooms were given lip service with some expos here and there, which were generally used as a cover up for selling non-handloom cloth for tax rebates.
Each regime and minister tweaked policies in a whimsical manner. Some states, development organisations, academics, and odd dedicated individuals fought hard and kept handmade textiles afloat.
Today, we have a resurgence of the word "textile" and a welcome, long-awaited emphasis on the promotion of handloom, with a proactive and energetic minister of textiles who has ten ideas a day, which she is in a hurry to implement. She visits or meets representatives for silk, wool, jute, mill cloth, power loom, handloom and handicraft manufacturers and is quick to grasp their problems and respond.
However, sometimes there is a sense of disquiet. Ten ideas and corresponding announcements a day may be a literary flourish but the firm implementation and visible results of this at the rate of one a month would have been wonderful. Instead, we see artisans and other stakeholders excited, imagining their problems will be solved. They have not been.
Communication lines have been opened in the name of help lines, identity cards to avail of various facilities to ease the lives of workers have been introduced, there are improved systems at some Weaver's Service Centres, which earlier lay moribund.
When existing institutions are energised, personnel serving in them follow suit.
Change is happening sporadically. However, new systems are emerging in fields that affect the entire textile sector which - because of absence of instructional clarity - leave the simple-minded floundering. Prime examples are Geographical Indicator Systems (GI), General Sales Tax (GST), even Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), the Ustaad scheme in the minority affairs ministry and many others, spread over various sectors and ministries that could help those working in the textile sector.
Large, organised institutions manage with educated personnel and have access to chartered accountants, auditors, tax lawyers and contacts, but try asking simple craftspeople about alphabet soup programmes - as great as the artisans may eventually turn out be, they are clueless as to the process and eventual benefits of such initiatives. There is no person, cell, department or policy that spells these out clearly for each section of "textiles" in India.
For the past three weeks, those concerned about the sector which looks after the concerns of the handmade crafts, traditional arts and textiles, have been scratching their heads for clarity from somewhere on the exact process of how the GST will apply to them.
Will it harm or benefit them? Will they unknowingly be penalised for computer illiteracy? Where do they find anyone who will clarify matters for them? They report that the minister's statements have been generic and unclear.
For instance, a well-established not-for-profit organisation that consists of craftspeople in all sectors and every state has information, which, even a week before the GST rollout, may well be incorrect.
They may go to a Chartered Accountant, but what will the hundreds of others do as they grapple with varying turnovers, computer facilities and literacy levels?Yes, they must become registered entrepreneurs, but a fair number are at the we-have-no-printed-letterhead level. If their income is below Rs 20 lakh, they are not eligible for GST registration; but they are liable to pay the tax of goods sold to their customers.
Taxation has shifted to generic names of materials or services from over-arching terms like "handicraft" and "handloom", irrespective of the section that manufactures them and the livelihoods that are involved.
Geographical Indicators (GI) may sound like excellent legal protection. The ministry of textiles spelled it out at a well-organised conference recently. Senior craftspersons were invited. I raised a host of questions our craftsperson members may ask us, like how to apply for a GI certificate, who does and pays for the heavy paperwork involved, who fights for them if their rights are encroached, what is the ultimate benefit, how is GI different from brand, patent and copyright.
The next day, the attending craftspersons visited our office to ask us the very basic of all questions, "What is GI?" They had grasped nothing.
This indicates that a lot more groundwork, unglamorous and unseen, needs to be done. The textile sector offers the potential for enormous development work in natural dyeing, creation of new natural fibres and textures of cloth, induction of technology that helps overcome drudgery without demolishing the handmade component so unique to India.
Fashion designers from across India and the world can step in and use their talents in the best ways to aid textile.
We still tend to whip up cream rather than get our hands to tend the fertile under soil.