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A Tribune Exclusive
Meltdown weaves trouble for handloom industry
Ruchika M. Khanna
Tribune News Service

Panipat, January 11
After almost a week of foggy and gloomy weather, the sun god is shining down brightly. But this pleasant change in weather, too, has failed to lift Anish Ahmed’s sagging spirits. As he stands inside his pit-loom unit here, inspecting the empty pit looms, he recalls that he has never seen such hard times in his 30 years in the handloom trade.

“It’s been almost one and a half months that my 24 pit loom unit is lying closed, while the other 60 loom unit is working to just 30 per cent of its capacity. A number of my weavers, employed on daily wage basis, have now started working as labourers or rickshaw-pullers. Since the demand for handlooms has fallen drastically because of recession, no handloom exporter here is outsourcing work to small contract units like mine,” he rues.

Anish Ahmed is not an isolated case in this textile hub of north India. Industry sources estimate that almost 80 per cent of these small contract units (of a total of 3,000 such units) have closed down in the past two months.

Since most of these units are not registered, there is no official data available on the units closed or the workers laid off.

However, industry sources said with 80 per cent handloom units now closed, almost 70,000 weavers employed here had been rendered jobless.

“The orders for handloom products - durries, carpets, bed sheets and other home furnishings have reduced by 50 per cent since September. The Panipat industry has been one of the largest exporters of handlooms, with an export turnover of Rs 3,500 crore. With the demand for our goods drying up in USA and Europe, handloom exporters have been forced to cut down their own production. Obviously, the first casualty is the contract manufacturing units, who are not getting any work now,” said Ramesh Verma, president of the Handlooms Exports Manufacturers Association.

As a result, thousands of jobless people can be seen all over the city. While some of them have changed their vocations, others are simply idling away their time in hope of an early revival like Riyaz Ahmed, who has lost his job twice in the past two months. He said: “I was thrown out by a contract manufacturing unit in November, but I found a new job quickly. However, for almost a month now, my new employer is without work and I have not been able to earn anything. I have been borrowing from the grocer and the vegetable vendor, but this cannot continue for long. I, too, will have to go and start work as a labourer to make both ends meet.”

Most of these weavers come here from Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. With the industry reeling under recession, many of these labourers are now thinking of going back home.

Paes Mohammad, who came here from West Bengal 10 years ago, said he had no option but to head back home as there was no work in Panipat. “The government must do something to save the handloom industry and protect the interest of weavers like me. I heard my employer talking that the government is pushing in money to ease the situation, but the benefits are certainly not reaching to the marginalised sections,” he said.

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