Avinash Chandra Barnawal, also known as Pitaji, loves to take up challenges even at the age of 75. He said, “Give us your most outlandish requirements, and we’ll accomplish it with perfection.”
But Pitaji’s professional pride is in direct contrast to the ground reality in this carpet manufacturers’ city, 60 km northwest of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.
Only a handful of weavers now work at the Barnawals’ house-cum- manufacturing unit at Ghamahapur Bypass in the city.
The chief wrecker is the dwindling demand, especially from big buyers in the West. And that triggered an exodus of weavers to other jobs, particularly those under the Central government-sponsored National Rural Employment Generation Scheme, which offers spot payment. Usually, a carpet weaver has to wait as long as 60 days to get paid.
Actually, strict labour laws, tax issues, infrastructure inadequacies and Chinese competition had been slowly piling on the pressure, and the economic slowdown seems to have come as the straw on the camel’s back.
But Bhadohi still has 1,000-plus exporters and a lot of ancillary units for mapping, weaving, dyeing and washing. It provides a living to about 1.5 million people.
Due to its export markets – it has a total export value of Rs 3,500 crore – Bhadohi has been popularly known as the dollar city. But the scene has changed perceptively.
Barnawal’s son Niraj makes it a point to show every visitor how his stockpile is growing, as the western buyer remains elusive. He said, “It could be worth Rs 5 crore, but only when somebody buys it. Although there are trickles of demand, payments are always blocked compelling us to hold back deliveries.”
Like the silk weavers in Bhagalpur, fear of the Chinese dragon gnaws at the Bhadohi fabric.
Barnawal said, “A big buyer from Sweden, who annually sourced carpets worth crores of rupees from Bhadohi and Mirzapur (southwest of Varanasi) has shifted to China this season. There they employ machines and offer cheaper carpets.”
“We don’t recommend any area-specific intervention as the entire carpet industry has been hit by recession,” said V.K. Sinha, additional director of Bhadohi Regional Centre of Carpet Export Promotion Council (CEPC), a body under the Union Ministry of Textiles.
He said the council would hard-sell Brand India at the global fairs beginning on September 6-7 at the United Kingdom and then in Valencia in Spain.
The alarm is also clearly written on the face of Abdul Hadi, secretary, All India Carpet Manufacturers Association (AICMA), who said, “Over 60 per cent local weavers have shifted to other jobs.”
The destination of many of these workers is Surat in Gujarat, where they are employed in saree-making. Some have gone to Panipat in Haryana or Jaipur in Rajasthan to fashion the same carpets.
Hadi mentioned another paralysing factor: Many carpet makers fear losing out assets to banks for not being able to repay loans.
What’s more, Bhadohi’s contribution to India’s forex kitty hasn’t earned it proper infrastructure – the city doesn’t have a direct train to New Delhi, 650 km away. Hadi said, “An SEZ announced by the state government in 2002 is yet to take off.”
At the moment, nothing seems to have worked for Bhadohi for quite some time, but Pitaji hasn’t given up. He is still ready for any challenge.