Grassroots Reachout & Networking in India on Trade & Economics (GRANITE)
Rajasthan Second Outreach Meeting
Bhilwara District, Rajasthan, September 15, 2005
CUTS Centre for Consumer Action, Research & Training (CUTS-CART) convened the Second Outreach Meeting under the GRANITE project at Tilak Nagar Community Hall, District Headquarter Bhilwara, Rajasthan, India on September 15, 2005. This Outreach Meeting primarily focused on Textile & Handloom Sector.
The participants of the meeting included the groups of textile workers, trade union leaders, handloom weavers, representative from local civil society organisations (CSOs), members of self-help groups and community leaders. 40 participants attended the Outreach Meeting, however, the number of women participants was unfortunately very low.
The prime objectives of the meeting were:
- to gather existing perceptions at the grassroots with regards to issues relating to textile & handloom sector in purview of the Globalisation and World Trade Organisation (WTO);
- to identify the anti-poor impact of the existing policies: and
- to assemble all the stakeholder to a common platform where they could share their present livelihood concerns.
Bhilwara is one of the leading industrial districts of Rajasthan State with a majority of textile industries. The economy of entire Bhilwara district moves around the textile industries of the Bhilwara, ‘the textile city’. The large numbers these industries are established mostly by the outsiders industrial groups and there is a dearth of local entrepreneurs.
In Bhilwara town, there are about four to five hundred small and big textile units engaging around forty thousand labourers inclusive of ten thousand female workers. Out of the total units, nine are spinning mills, 22 are the processing plants and around 275 are weaving plants. Remaining units are either sick or other ancillaries. The sick units are not functional since long and the owners of these units are also not interested in reviving them. Northern India Textile Research Association (NTRA), an institution that keeps the information on the effects of WTO and Globalisation on textile sector upgraded, is also functioning in the city.
In the recent past, the gross production in textiles units has gone high resulting in the shortage of skilled labours to complete the increasing number of orders from various parts of the country. And for the first time in Bhilwara textiles history, the units are continuing with production even during the off-season (June-September) and labourers are engaged for full time.
The handloom sector in the district, which had been substantially prosperous earlier, is now passing under severe constraints. This sector is badly affected due to the local weavers (mainly belong to the backward class of the society) are turning towards other sources of livelihood. Most of labourers are either working in textile industries or selling their handloom products as hawkers. Mostly, their handloom products are chadars (bedsheets).
Highlights of the Outreach Meeting
Shashi Prabha, Punyarupa Bhadury, Madan Giri and Rajendra Kumar of CUTS International briefed the participants about the Agreement on Textiles, WTO & Globalisation. They also explained the reasons for selecting Agriculture, Textiles & Handloom sectors under the GRANITE project. By pointing the women participants as an important stakeholder of the textile sector and economic development, CUTS International team encouraged them to take active part in identifying, sharing and dissemination information on the issues related to textile and handloom sector. CUTS International team explained the participants that if a worker is not willing to work she/he should possess the courage to clarify the employer the reason for not doing so. A important question was raised here: did the government of the country ever try to know the perceptions of all concerned stakeholders of the textile sector?
Voice from the Grassroots
Tejram, a handloom worker, presented the grim scenario in the textile and handloom sector in Bhilwara. His view are documented below:
- Poor handloom weavers are losing their landholding rights, as their land is being allotted to resourceful textile mill owners. A number of handloom workers are turning into ‘Beedi’ ( tobacco rolled in a tobacco leaf to make a rudimentary cigarette for smoking) workers.
- More than 200 members of 32 families are dependent on handloom industry. They all are below poverty line (BPL) cardholders.
- Availing loan facilities from banking institutions is a tedious and uncertain task. The bank officials ask them to surrender ‘Patta’ (a landholding document released by the government) against the loans. Some of the workers take loans in some other way without knowing the benefit of taking it.
- The worker community engaged in handloom sector is not united and there is never a consensus on welfare issue. Furthermore, the living standard of the community is also very low.
Kanhiya Lal Bulawat, a Trade Union Leader, presented the unfavourable conditions and changing fortunes in the textile and handloom sector. His views are documented below:
- Inhuman working conditions in the mills. Extended working hours, as almost all the mill owners exploit work for more then 16 to 18 hours.
- Textile mill owner, weaving master (to see the factory line, fix the wages and mark the late comers) and the workers engaged in maintenance job are the real profiteers in textile sector.
- Weavers who used to possess looms in their houses and used to provide employment to others have now themselves become labourers in textile units.
- The only livelihood option remains with workers is purchasing a variety of textile wastes and re-fabricate them in handloom products, which are sold at very low prices.
- They have heard of a separate quota of raw material for weavers but they have yet to get any opportunity to manage raw material under separate quota. Government also seems reluctant in creating opportunities for the handloom weavers.
- They demanded for ‘Dobi’ (name of an instrument that improves the gross quality production of a handloom unit) whereby any design can be worked out by the weavers without having any special skill. The cost of a ‘Dobi’ set is, at a maximum price, rupees four thousand but the economic conditions of the weavers do not allow them to go in for even such a small investment.
- Because of the prevailing low socio-economic conditions of the weavers community, they are not unable to voice their rights. However, they are aware of the injustice being done to them.
- Production level has increased due to high quality imported machines.
- As higher technology is being applied, the dependence upon workers is reducing. Now, only one person is required to operate six modern machines. This leads to increasing unemployment.
- Weavers alone are responsible for their low economic conditions. The workers keep hatred and grudge against mills officials who promote their unskilled relatives in the mills by providing them job opportunities. It leads to the killing of opportunities for the skilled workers.
- Overtime wages should be given to the workers. The mills owners are least bother about the labour laws applicable to them.
- If any multinational company enter in establishing new textile units, then employment will certainly decrease due to the fact that higher technology unit will employ less workers.
- Unity of workers should be first taken into account, which is very much lacking in the current scenario.
- The market of ‘Nakli Saman’ (brand copied textile products) is flourishing in Bhilwara town within the notice of different regulatory bodies e.g. the popular ‘Vimal’ (textile product of Reliance Industries) are sold by the mark of ‘Vimla’ or ‘The Vimal’.
- Rate of cotton is higher than the synthetic yarn. However, the demand for cotton made products is also high.
Prahlad, an ex-electrician in the textile factories, presented the other side of the picture. His views are documented below:
The following are the key issues emerged from the Outreach Meeting:
- It was observed that the workers are not aware of WTO and related issues. They are not even aware of the Agreement on textile quota regime etc. CUTS International team felt that the workers are now getting more work due to an increase in the demand for clothing.
- On the capital and technical requirements, the unity amongst handloom weavers community is essential. There is none to voice their rights and demands. The trade union movement has weakened. The globalisation process has crashed their society and sources of livelihood.
- The main reason behind failure in competitive market is local political and unfair industrial practices. This situation leads to inferior quality of the handloom products.
- The labour laws are not effective. Average working schedule is 12 hours and the workers do not get wages for over time duty.
- The textile labours and handloom weavers are not very calculative in nature thus lose their economic interest. The exploitation has increased due to globalisation. As far as WTO is concern, they said that they have not heard about it.
- Handlooms are almost dead. The weavers have become labours and they do not have any job security. Many of them use to purchase textile products from local mills and sell through hawking. Some of them have started making biddies. There must be above 200 hundred weavers from 32 families. All of them belong to BPL families.
- The introduction of modern techniques in agriculture sector has also closed opportunities for the weavers and textile labours. There are around 25 percent handloom weavers and textile labours, whose partial source of livelihood is based on agriculture.
- The existing loan facility in various institutions is not transparent and beneficial for the weavers. Availing loans from the banks is a harassing experience for the weavers. Improving and simplifying the loan facilities can better the condition of handloom sector.
- This year, however, they do not know the reason for non-availability of work in textile sector, but enough work is there in textile mills even in the off -season (rainy season).
- The schemes meant for the handlooms sector are attractive but the weavers do not have the courage to get benefits out of that. There is a need to improve their technical skills.
- The labour stability in textile mills has increased since 7-8 months. But the existing hierarchical system in the mills has increased the problems for labours.
- The introduction of improved technology will definitely not be beneficial for the handloom sector. Already job insecurity is prevailing.
- The increased number of orders for the products in the mills has not provided any benefits to labours. Mostly, the mills belong to local owners and yet they have not observed the interest of outside investor in setting up textile units in Bhilwara. The entry of Multinational Corporations (MNCs) will lead to unemployment.
- The scope for readymade garments is very low but the demand is gradually rising.