NN Rana Patgiri

Now, the decision taken by the State Government to separate the handloom cooperatives from the existing Directorate of Handloom and Textiles, Assam that may be found against the national policy of the Government of India will deprive the handloom sector of Assam from the developmental approach of the Central Government.

Handlooms constitute a timeless facet of the rich cultural heritage of India. As an economic activity, handlooms occupy a place second only to agriculture in providing livelihood to the people. The element of art and craft present in Indian handlooms makes it a potential sector for the upper segments of domestic and global market. However, the sector is beset with manifold problems such as obsolete technologies, unorganized production system, low productivity, inadequate working capital, conventional product range, weak marketing link, overall stagnation of production and sales and, above all, competition from power looms and the mill sector. As a result of effective government intervention through financial assistance and implementation of various developmental and welfare schemes, the handlooms sector, to some extent, has been able to tide over these disadvantages.

The handloom industry in Assam attained a very high degree of perfection before the mechanized loom was invented to produce cloth. As the largest cottage industry in Assam, it occupies a place of prominence in the economy of the State. Nearly 35% of the total requirement of the cloth in the State is provided by this sector. In terms of employment, it is next only to agriculture in importance. More than 16,43,453 people are directly or indirectly involved in the handloom weaving sector, out of which 14,01,418 people are weavers to work in more than 11,11,577 looms. Out of the total weavers available in Assam, 13,88,653 are women and 12,765 men. Out of the total looms, the number of commercial looms is 24,049, semi-commercial 2,63,068, domestic 6,91,105 and non-functioning or idle looms 1,33,355. All this produces 160 crore square metres of hand-woven fabrics annually against the per capita annual consumption 16.50 metres. The development of this industry is one of the major thrust areas of the Assam Government.

In December 1973, the Government of India appointed the Sivaraman Committee to make an in-depth study of the problems of the handloom industry. The high-powered study team made a detailed study into the various problems of the industry and suggested several measures so that this sector could facilitate the removal of poverty and inequalities among the people who depend on the industries like handlooms, khadi, etc. Special attention was also given to generate large-scale employment opportunities on a decentralized and dispersed basis, to upgrade the existing level of skills of artisans as well as quality of their products and to step up production both for mass consumption and export. The ‘cooperativization’ of handloom has been considered as an instrument of economic development of the disadvantaged weavers in the rural areas.

The Sivaraman Committee, while reviewing the organizational aspect of the handloom industry in the country, also commented that for the proper growth of the handloom sector, it is necessary that wherever the handloom population is reasonably large in a State, there must be a separate Handloom Directorate. The Task Force on Handlooms, 1974 recommended the setting up of a separate directorate to deal with the handloom industry at the State Level.

The Working Group of the Planning Commission in its meeting held on December 15, 1980 in New Delhi under the chairmanship of CK Modi, adviser (Village and Small Industries), while discussing the proposal of the Assam Government for the Five-Year Plan 1980-85, also stressed the need of a single organization to look after the development programme of the handloom industry whether in the cooperative sector, outside the cooperative sector or in the public sector.

So, Assam with a large number of handlooms needed to be treated in a special way for the interest of the weaving community. In the third meeting of the All India Handloom Board which was held in Hyderabad on the December 11, 1979, members were of the opinion that the States which have 50,000 handlooms or more should have a separate Directorate of Handlooms. The Board accordingly recommended that the Centre should advise the State governments which do not have such directorates to take suitable action to form them as early as possible.

The development of handloom is essentially a State subject and, therefore, official and non-official initiative taken at the Central level alone would not prove sufficient unless the States which have a vital role to play are also involved in the programme. Some States, namely, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar have already established special directorates to look after the development of handlooms. In Assam, where sericulture is also an important subject, the posts of the director of sericulture and weaving, which should have been two different posts, had been tagged together.

As already noted, in respect of the weaving industry, this directorate with its limited field staff has confined itself to production, training and research which tantamount to be a very meagre and insufficient effort in the light of the requirements of the industry.

The creation of a separate full-fledged Directorate of Handlooms that could coordinate programmes for handloom development in the cooperative sector, outside the cooperative sector or in the public sector is a long-felt need. This directorate should undertake the promotional and developmental measures like marketing, promotion, training programmes for skill upgrade schemes for expansion of research in handloom development, product and design development, etc.

Accordingly, the Government of Assam under the above circumstances and for the development for an important sector had decided to set up a new Directorate of Handloom and Textiles, Assam to bring all handloom activities as scattered with many departments in the State.

The Government of Assam had notified the creation of a new Directorate of Handloom and Textiles, Assam vide notification No. AR.12/83/UO dated April 20, 1983 to deal with handlooms, power looms, etc., carving out the weaving wing of the erstwhile Directorate of Sericulture and Weaving and amalgamating with the handloom and power loom sectors separating these from the Cooperation Department. Since then the Directorate of Handloom and Textiles, Assam has been working as a channelizing department for implementation of plans and programmes of the State Government as well as the Union Ministry of Textiles, office of the development commissioner for handlooms and ensure all-round development of handloom in both organized and unorganized sectors very effectively.

Now, the decision taken by the State Government to separate the handloom cooperatives from the existing Directorate of Handloom and Textiles, Assam that may be found against the national policy of the Government of India will deprive the handloom sector of Assam from the developmental approach of the Central Government. The existing growth rate of production, employment and earning of the handloom sector will decrease and lakhs of looms will stop production while the people working in these looms will become jobless, because of the delinking from Central schemes/plans taken up in different Plan periods by the Union Ministry of Textiles.

During 2013, such a decision for transferring the handloom cooperatives from the Directorate of Handloom and Textiles, Assam was also taken which was cancelled by the Assam Government issuing a notification on November 7, 2013 in support of the national policy for development of the handloom sector.

Any such decision of bifurcation as initiated without going to the actual facts of the background should be stopped for the greater interest of the handloom sector of Assam.