GUWAHATI, May 19 - There are no takers for the famed Assam Silk these days, thanks to the COVID-19 induced lockdown which has hit the production of the fabric hard as well as its exports.
So much so is the penury of the workers associated with the industry that many � especially the hired hands - have even left the �Manchester of East� and have now switched over to other sources of livelihood like construction works in the city or even embankment repair works under MGNREGA.
�There are around 6,500 looms at Sualkuchi and of them only about 40 per cent are now functioning and producing minimum fabric. Many workers from places like Karbi Anglong and Udalguri, who used to stay and work here, have migrated, and we have heard that many are now working at construction sites and other such places,� Hiralal Kalita, secretary of the Sualkuchi Tat Silpa Unnayan Samity, told The Assam Tribune.
Some 30,000 people are involved in the industry at Sualkuchi and 5,500 are from outside the town. Eighty per cent of the weavers are also not locals of Sualkuchi.
Kalita, who also exported Muga fabric to foreign countries, said the export has stopped since March.
�I got a mail from US importers that they do not require the fabric anymore. They have not specified the timeframe for which they have stopped the import. Japan too has intimated that they won�t be needing the fabric for the next six months,� Kalita said.
Importers in the US used the Muga fabric for stitching blazers, etc. while Japan used to import items like umbrellas and other diversified Muga items, besides the general fabric.
Bihu and marriage dates make April-May the peak season for the weavers and others associated with the indigenous industry.
The cost of yarn which comes from Karnataka has also risen by 20 per cent. However, many weavers are now forced to sell their products at 25-30 per cent less than the normal price due to the distress.
�Those who are making the fabrics are selling them at the cost price or even less. Others, who can afford, are stocking it. However, currently, the production has come down by 75 per cent,� Bipul Basihya, who owns a loom at Sualkuchi, said.
The loss by the industry is estimated at Rs 1 crore each day, hitting workers engaged in around fifteen steps of manufacturing the fabrics, like drying, colouring, designing, etc. But there is no government help so far. Each loom on an average manufactures around 1.5 metres of fabric every day.
Foreign tourists have also stopped visiting since March, and hence there is no local sale as well.
�Most of the showrooms are closed. There used to be a lot of business during Bihu as well as in marriages this season. Now, the sale is as good as zero. Pat, Muga, etc. are luxury items and people are not in a position to buy them. A few weavers are making the products but not able to sell,� entrepreneur Bapon Sarkar said.
A retailer in Guwahati added, �Each shop has at least Rs 20 lakh worth of clothes already stocked. If this stock doesn�t clear, we can�t buy newly woven clothes. There are hardly any buyers now.�