Had all the 160 units been clanking away, the noise would have made it impossible to talk, says 40-year-old Madan Dudeja, pointing to the idle looms at his factory, MG Enterprises, in Panipat’s old quarters.
Here in the Manchester of the East — as the textile hub of Panipat is called — export orders have tanked by up to 40 per cent in two months. The meltdown half-way across the globe in the US has hit this distant target.
Since Panipat’s export houses have stopped sourcing from the base units, they, in turn, have stopped hiring, mostly from Mirzapur in UP and West Dinajpur in West Bengal.
The industry here exports upholstery, traditional rugs, bed-sheets, bathrobes, mats, etc, to upscale US stores like Wal-Mart, Kmart and the international home products retailer, Ikea. During the boom time, Panipat’s 12,528 power-looms raked in business worth Rs 2,000 crore.
“Without new orders, I will have to slash the prices of my dhurries by half,” says Dudeja, whose punja dhurries were initially made by rural women as part of the dowry for their daughters. The woollen varieties of dhurries, a popular item abroad, retail at about Rs 300 per square foot in the international market.
But the migrant workers have taken the worst hit, says deputy labour commissioner Ajay Batra. At the Purewal Colony, more than 50 day-labourers waited, tracking idly the ebb and flow of the evening crowd at the local market.
The export units employ about a lakh workers. Of them, 25,000 are out of job, says Jai Bhagwan, local secretary of the Centre for Indian Trade Union.
Wages have dropped sharply too. In the past two months, labourer Ashok Shravan has been working once or twice a week, making between Rs 50 and 80 a day. Skilled weavers like him would, otherwise, not work for anything below Rs 300.