The economic downturn induced by the pandemic is reflected in the extremes reported from two Punjab cities. On the one hand, the employees of the revenue and forest departments in Bathinda have complained of not being paid their salaries for the past four months as funds have not been received. On the other hand, the textile industry in Ludhiana, among the oldest clusters in the country, is facing a shortage of workers that is affecting productivity. As the shutdown began, stocks piled up, supplies got stuck, demand plummeted and the workforce left. Restrictions on manpower and working hours also affected output. The cost of meeting fixed charges added to the problem.
The manufacturers have been making efforts to bring back the workers, not with much success though, because of the coronavirus scare. The workforce might be weighing options back home, but the crisis also offers an opportunity to the textile industry to reinvent itself. Modernisation has aided in reducing employment. Advanced computerised machines do away with the need for manual machines. Changing fashion trends also require new machinery, rendering many units obsolete. The textile industry is among the more affected, unlike the bicycle industry that has done better. Many of the units diversified, making PPE kits and other accessories for the health workforce.
Exporters in Ludhiana say that they have orders from the US and the European Union, but they are unable to make a commitment because of the inability to deliver the goods within a stipulated time. Reviving economic activity will mean that the problem be looked into by enabling the deployment of men and machinery. If it can be done for agricultural activities like harvesting and procurement, the region’s signature industry also deserves attention. With the curbs in place, the lockdown affected demand because of the ban on social gatherings, restrictions like home confinement and the shutting of markets. With restrictions easing, it may take time for the activity to pick up pace. A flourishing industry should not be allowed to flounder.
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