Attack on traditional skill: Varanasi weavers stare at a dead end
Demonetisation, GST, lockdown, Chinese yarns and higher power tariff choke handloom weavers
Weavers in Varanasi say they are staring at a dead end. Demonetisation, GST, erratic power supply and tariff, withdrawal of subsidy, cheaper silk and yarn from China and lack of government support are some of the handicaps they cite to explain their plight. Rising prices of inputs and essential goods are also affecting the production and trade.
The market, they say, is now flooded with fake or ‘naqli’ Banarasi sarees costing as little as a couple of thousand Rupees. A genuine Banarasi silk Sari woven on a handloom, they point out, would cost four to five times more.
Goods & Services Tax (GST) is not only higher than the VAT ( Value Added Tax) that they earlier paid but the complex account keeping and the mandatory monthly returns etc. have driven small and cottage industries out of the market. Stricter environmental rules have also made it difficult to dispose off dyes.
There are a number of government schemes for weavers, they concede; and sarcastically admit that a large number of youngsters have received training on working on handlooms.
“They are all floating around with certificates with the Prime Minister’s photograph. But most of them are unemployed and there is no work,” said a weaver. Many of the weavers have already migrated to Mumbai and Surat to try their luck there. The future of weaving in Varanasi is bleak, they claim.
“Only government officials can tell who are benefitting from the schemes. We don’t see any beneficiary around us,” grumbles Babu Salim. A dealer, Babu Mahato, is as enraged and points fingers at the ad-hoc power tariff. While a flat rate of Rs. 500 every month is being charged as ad-hoc payment, he complains, the bills will be raised later on the basis of a new policy and consumption of electricity. “What kind of a policy is this,” he fumes.
Young entrepreneur Gaurav Jaiswal has done his MBA before joining the industry. He too is concerned about ‘duplicate Banarasi saris’. These duplicate saris, he claims, has taken over 95 percent of the market by using powerlooms and cheaper Chinese yarn. Handloom saris have been driven out of the market.
Unless the government steps in and banks simplify and relax lending rules for weavers, he believes, it will be difficult to revive the industry. Several weavers and traders say that unless the government ensures suitable conditions and helps in marketing, things are unlikely to improve.