Abolished Now, but Here’s How the Handloom Board Transformed Weavers’ Lives

OAs India celebrates the National Handloom Day on August 7 2020, this will be the first time it does so without the All India Handloom Board.

The Union Ministry of Textile released two separate notifications on July 27 and August 3 to announce the abolition of the All India Handicraft Board and All India Handloom Board (AIHB). According to the statement, the decision has been taken in consonance with the Government of India’s vision of ‘Minimum Government and Maximum Governance’.

However, experts feel that the board which comprises official members from the central and state governments, and non-official members from the handloom industry, played a vital role in safeguarding the interest of weavers, and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Laila Tyabji, the founder of Delhi-based NGO Dastkar, took to social media to express her concern over the dissolution of the board.

In her post, she mentions that the AIHB remained the one official forum, where the voices and views of weavers and craftspeople could be heard directly. She says that was the one place where representatives of the sector were present in considerable numbers and were empowered to advise the government in policy-making, and sectoral spending.

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What did the All India Handloom Board do?

The All India Handloom Board was set up in 1992, to advise the Government in the formulation of overall development programs in the handloom sector. It was also responsible for advising the Government on how to make handlooms an effective instrument for reducing unemployment and underemployment, and how to achieve higher living standards for weavers.

Umang Sridhar, the founder of Bhopal-based social enterprise, KhaDigi, that works with several weavers and artisans in Madhya Pradesh, says that the state-level representatives of AIHB were actively involved in organising melas, fairs, and exhibitions to showcase and market their work.

The Board also formulated the development and welfare schemes of handloom weavers from time to time.

Some of the welfare schemes introduced by the AIHB include:

1.The Handloom Weavers Comprehensive Welfare Scheme

Launched in 2018, all weavers and workers between the ages of 18 – 50 were covered under the Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana (PMJJBY) and Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana (PMSBY). As part of the same scheme, a maximum of two children of the weavers would be given an annual scholarship for their education.

According to a study conducted between 2008-09, the Govt. of India spent an amount of Rs.324.44 crore for the development of the handloom sector. This expenditure has increased to Rs.740.72 crore in 2012-13, after it declined to Rs.577.25 crore in 2013-14.

2. National Handloom Development Programme (NHDP)

This scheme focussed on the education of handloom weavers and their children. Ministry of Textiles provides reimbursement of 75% of the fee towards admission to the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU)courses for SC, ST, BPL, and Women learners belonging to handloom weavers’ families.

A study conducted in 2015, among 146 weavers in Madhya Pradesh shows that 9/10th of the population was found to be benefiting from training programs in weaving, dyeing and design were able to increase their annual earnings by 5% to 15%.

3. Handloom Marketing Assistance

One of the components of the NHDP, this aims to provide a marketing platform to the handloom agencies and weavers to sell their products directly to the consumers. Financial assistance is provided to the eligible handloom agencies for organising marketing events in domestic as well as overseas markets.

4. Weaver MUDRA Scheme:

Under the Weavers’ Mudra Scheme, credit at a concessional interest rate of 6% is provided to the handloom weavers. Margin money assistance to a maximum of Rs.10,000 per weaver and credit guarantee for 3 years is also provided. The MUDRA portal has been developed in association with Punjab National Bank to cut down delay in disbursement of funds for margin money.

Under this scheme, the total number of cards issued during the year 2015-2016 was at 5.17 lakh, and an amount of Rs 1476.96 crore. The same study shows that Rs.1391.25 cr was withdrawn by micro and small business.

5. Yarn Supply Scheme –

Under this scheme Yarn warehouses were set up in handloom dense areas, and yarn was provided to weavers at a 10% subsidy. In 2015, the same study conducted among 146 weavers in Madhya Pradesh showed that 98% were happy with the scheme as they got all kinds of yarn at mill gate price.

For the Future

Umang says that the decision taken by the government came as a surprise to everyone and that most artisans are still unaware of it.

“The role of the board has been crucial in offering subsidies, grants, and in setting up showrooms in several areas which generated sales, marketing, and training opportunities. The board was also actively involved in organising melas, fairs, and exhibitions to uplift the artisans. Now that the board is not there, there is no clarity as to what would happen to the state-level associations, and who will organise these events in the future. There are talks that a central body may be set up to regulate handlooms and handicrafts, but that is not certain.”

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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