GUWAHATI, March 2 � The North-East accounts for about 66.75 per cent of the total looms (13.96 lakh out of 20.91 lakh units) and more than 50 per cent of the weavers (21.75 lakh out of 43.31 lakh weavers in the country).
And despite the fact that most of the weavers in the North-East continue to work on traditional loin looms on individual basis bereft of institutional support for raw materials, finance, marketing, training and landholding, an ambitious project aimed at upgrading domestic handloom units into commercially viable ones has failed to materialize even after it was recommended by various State governments of the North-East, Ministry of Textiles, Ministry of DoNER, and other experts and committees within and outside the Planning Commission.
The project, MES Handloom Scheme, envisaged awareness building and motivation, human resource development/entrepreneurship development, skill and capacity development, design and product development, market linkage, and creation of infrastructure facilities like common facility centres besides setting up of minimum economic size (MES) commercial units with at least ten fly shuttle loom of 1,000 sq ft and ten jacquard machine for design weaving and other accessories at a cost of Rs 11.42 lakh with 90 per cent grant from Government of India and 10 per cent contribution including land from the weaver entrepreneurs in the cooperative sector.
Implementation of the scheme warranted no additional budget since the required fund was available within the 10 per cent budget allocation for the North-East from the Ministry of Textiles.
�After several rounds of discussions, the office of the Development Commissioner (Handloom), the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India finalised the scheme and submitted a Standing Finance Committee Memo to the Planning Commission for its in-principle approval,� official sources told The Assam Tribune.
Although the Planning Commission is required to convey either the in-principle approval or reject the same within a specific timeframe, it made undue delay and only in April 2011, a joint team of officials from the Planning Commission and the Ministry of Textiles visited Guwahati to make on-the-spot assessment of the ground level situation and had discussions with different stakeholders.
Since then, due to reasons best known to the officials concerned, the relevant file was kept moving to different unconcerned tables for three to four months and only on December 14, 2011, the then Member Secretary, Planning Commission held discussions on the scheme, wherein senior officials of the Government of India viz Secretary, (Textiles), Development Commissioner (Handlooms) Economic Adviser & Deputy Economic Adviser and other officials of the Ministry of Textiles strongly advocated for grant of in-principle approval for the scheme without any further delay.
Unfortunately, while the scheme was for upgrading of the domestic handloom units owned by the local weavers, an unrealistic view that upgrading of the domestic handloom units would invite outsiders to the region and turn the local weavers into manual workers was taken, putting a spanner in the process.
The issue of according in-principle approval to the scheme was kept pending for unknown reasons and ultimately in the meeting held on May 2, 2012 between the then Secretary Textiles and the Secretary, Planning Commission, it was decided to formulate an umbrella scheme for the North-east within which the MES Handloom Scheme could be taken up.
�The Planning Commission thus neither rejected the proposal for introduction of the MES Handloom Scheme nor undermined its socio-economic implications in the region but refrained from according its approval to the proposal of the Ministry of Textiles for without any rhyme or reason, thereby sending the preferred MES scheme into the dustbin,� sources said.