New Delhi: Governmment of India has issued a Gazette notification (No.1/13/2017-DCHL/Coordn/AIHB. Dt.27th July, 2020) which notifies abolition of All India Handloom Board. Handloom weavers are facing severe livelihood crisis. Primarily, despite highly rated skills and widely appreciated products, income flows have been an issue for families dependent on handloom weaving.
Corona pandemic and lockdown have been severe on these families, across India. Previously, they were hit by demonetization and GST imposition on handloom products. Annual Handloom budget allocations have been reducing over years. Currently, these families have been looking for succor from Governments in these hard times.
They were disappointed that Atma Nirbhar package did not include them directly. It does not even refer to them, even though their contribution to GDP and national economy, in terms of wealth creation, employment and environmental conservation has been immense for decades.
In these circumstances, it is very unfortunate that All India Handloom Board has been abolished by the Government of India. Seriously, this is gross injustice to lakhs of handloom families. Further, this was announced on the eve of National Handloom Day (7th August) on which handloom weavers and crores of handloom product consumers celebrate the heritage, skill, art and livelihoods. It was the current Prime Minister who declared this date as National Handloom Day.
This Board was set up to advice the Government in formulation of the overall development programme in the handloom sector given its importance from socio-economic, cultural and artistic perspective. This Board was set up with the following specific objectives:
- to meet the needs of the country progressively from the handloom sector;
- to make handlooms an effective instrument of reducing unemployment and under-employment and achieving higher standard of living of weavers;
- to preserve and further promote the craft heritage of our handlooms;
- to devise strategies for expanding markets of handlooms within the country and abroad;
- to take steps for effective coordination of the developmental efforts of the various State Governments/Union Territories in this sector; and
- to review the progress of development of handloom sector from time to time.
The reason given in the Gazette is that this abolition is part of “Minimum Government and Maximum Governance’, a leaner Government Machinery and the need for systematic rationalization of Government bodies. This argument looks specious, because in the past several years, meetings of All India Handloom Board have been few. Leaner government machinery cannot be translated into ‘clean’ everything that enables connection between people and government. Handloom sector turnover is a whopping Rs.1,00,000 crore, far above many of the industrial sectors such as cement and agrochemicals.
Neglect of handloom sector in the policy making circles is because they do not representatives who can visit government offices with suits and suitcases. All India Handloom Board is the only institutional interface between government and handloom weavers. Expenditure on this Board is hardly Rs.1,00,000 per year. One would wonder what made the managers of “Minimum Government and Maximum Governance’ programme to pick up to reduce their expenditure, where no expenditure has been happening. AIHB meetings did not happen over the past few years. This nothing but pick an ant and miss the elephants. There are many government institutions, where public money is spent without any result for the people.
In this regard, we demand reconstitution of All India Handloom Board. It needs to be strengthened with a mandate reflecting the needs of policy-making, monitoring, review and public hearing functions. It should have supervisory powers over implementation mechanisms related to handloom sectors. Handloom departments and machinery should be made responsive to the directions of this body. In the past, Parliamentary Standing Committee has identified lax implementation as one of the major causes of problems before handloom sector. An independent All India Handloom Board should be able to monitor and speed up the process of implementation. It can also serve as a platform to respond to issues of public concern. Handloom sector is part of Indian ethos. It is heritage and also a modern, competitive sector in India, unlike in other countries where it is reduced to tourism locations.
Government of India has to quickly to rescind this decision to abolish All India Handloom Board, strengthen it with positive and broad mandate, provide sufficient finances for its work and through the Board work on a positive development programme for handloom weavers.
Dr. D. Narasimha Reddy
Public Policy Reviewer and Campaigner