Lockdown causes a ₹8,000 crore setback to handicraft industries in UP
Nusrat Begum, a 45-year-old weaver living in Chhajarsi area, has no work these days. She and her four children used to earn at least ₹75,000 a month during the period from March to July every year.
“From the month of March every year, our suppliers started giving us orders for embroidery and stitching work. The four months that follow are the best season to earn more as suppliers get bulk government orders at the fiscal-end. But, this time we have no work and we are going through a very tough time. Our savings are almost over and we don’t know what the future holds,” she said.
Like Nusrat, Gopal Karmakar of Labour Chowk area, works as a tailor with a small garments supplier company. He says his company has been closed as it could not get any orders this year. “My average earning was ₹20,000 a month, but now I am looking for some job; any job. I am even unable to go back to my native village in West Bengal,” he said.
With all the overseas orders cancelled, and movement of containers carrying handicraft products curtailed, the handicraft industry in the state has suffered a loss over ₹8,000 crore during this lockdown so far.
The officials fear that unless the state government announces a special package for artisans, the handicraft industries will collapse.
Rakesh Kumar, the director general of Export Promotion Council of Handicrafts (EPCH), said after the outbreak of Covid-19, almost all orders from the overseas buyers were cancelled. “Imagine the plight of exporters, who invested a lot of money to meet the orders. The orders were cancelled, at a time when the items were being packed for shipment. Even for the prevailing orders, the exporters are keeping their fingers crossed as in the present scenario, the movement of containers has become difficult,” he said.
He said the cancellation of 49th International Handicrafts and Gift Festival (IHGF) Spring 2020, scheduled to begin from April 15 at the India Expo Mart in Greater Noida, has dealt another blow to the industry. “This is a huge blow to this sector as the fair is the biggest platform for artisans to get orders from big overseas buyers. The crisis has caused an estimated loss of ₹8,000 crore in this sector so far,” he said.
Kumar said since the exporters can’t stop the payments to artisans, they made full payments in March. “But, if the crisis continues, how can the exporters manage payments in the coming months? If the state government does not announce a special package to meet the monthly payments of artisans, the handicraft industries in Uttar Pradesh will hit rock bottom,” he said.
Rajesh Jain, a Noida-based handicraft exporter, said since most of the overseas buyers are from US and Europe --two regions that are the worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic -- the exporters have taken a huge hit.
“Over 70% orders stand cancelled. Even for the remaining orders, buyers have extended the dates by four or five months. In cases where the shipments have reached their countries, buyers are bargaining for a credit period of three months. Back home, in the absence of cash flow and mounting interest from our hypothecating banks, exporters are finding it difficult to pay artisans. In fact, 90% artisans are now jobless. The government must launch a MNREGA-like scheme, which can provide minimum wages to them,” he said.
Kamal Soni, an exporter from Moradabad, said the lockdown has broken the supply chain of the handicraft industries. “The handicraft industry caters to workers from both the organised and unorganised sectors. Unless the government provides a special package for MSME artisans, the lives of over 3 crore workers associated with handicraft sector will be in peril,” he said.
At present, the UP government runs a One District, One Product (ODOP) programme, to encourage indigenous crafts in Agra (leather products), Amroha (musical instruments), Aligarh (locks), Ayodhya (jaggery), Bahraich (wheat-stalk), Bareilly (zari-zardozi), Bhadohi (carpets), Bulandshahr (ceramics), Firozabad (bangles), Gautam Budh Nagar (readymade garments) and Ghaziabad (engineering products).
As per estimates, nearly two crore people are directly or indirectly involved in the handicraft industry in the state. Rashid Ahmad, an artisan associated with carpet industry in Bhadohi, said the income of artisans varies between ₹10,000 and ₹20,000 a month. “The other workers like rangrej (dyers), dhunia and cart-puller get around ₹8,000 a month,” he said.
The EPCH director general said in order to provide relief to the handicrafts exporters and help them withstand the challenges posed by the current crisis, the EPCH put their grievances before the Central government.
“Taking cognizance of our representations, the government has extended its foreign trade policy 2015-20 by another year till March 31, 2021. This extension will boost the morale of the handicrafts exporting community,” he said.
The EPCH has made a contribution of ₹25 lakh towards the PMCARE Fund and the staff of EPCH have separately contributed a day’s salary to the fund.