Tamil Nadu Second Outreach Meeting
Tiruvannamalai district, Tamil Nadu, December 4, 2005
Shantimalai Research and Development Trust (SMRDT) and Rural Education and Agriculture Development Trust (READT), Tiruvannamalai, the local project partners of Citizen consumer & civic Action Group (CAG) organised the second GRANITE Outreach Meeting at Tiruvannamalai district, Tamil Nadu on December 4, 2005.
The objective of the meeting was to bring farmers and weavers of the district to a common platform, to discuss the opportunities and challenges in the era of globalisation and World Trade Organisation (WTO)-induced free textile trade and to share and learn information and opinions with reference to their livelihood.
A Brief Profile of the District:
With a total geographical area of 6191 sq km, Tiruvannamalai comprises of the revenue divisions of Tiruvannamalai and Cheyyar. It has six taluks, 18 blocks, including one tribal block, Javvadhu hills constituting the district under rural sector and four Municipalities viz. representing urban sectors. One sixth of the land area is covered by reserve forest and hills that are part of the Eastern Ghats under Javvadhu Hills.
According to census 2001, the total population is 21,81,853 comprising of 10,93,191 men and 10,88,662 women. Agriculture is the main occupation, and paddy, groundnut, sugarcane, millets and pulses are the major crops cultivated here. However, a majority of the area under cultivation is dependent on rainfall and does not have any assured source of irrigation. Furthermore, a substantial percentage of working force is landless agricultural labourers.
It is an industrially backward district. However, medium and small-scale industries as well as cottage industries, such as modern rice mills, weaving factories, cotton, silk and mat weaving, coir manufacturing and beedi manufacturing are flourishing here.
Proceedings of the Outreach Meeting
The meeting was divided into two sessions: one focused on handloom and the other on agriculture sector.
This session started in the morning. About 48 traditional ‘lungi’ weavers attended the session, who came from the surrounding areas of Ananthapuram, Rayampettai, Ayyampalayam, Alampoondi, Chittarasu, and Tiruvannamalai. Some of them were members of the weavers’ cooperative and therefore, procured yarn from their society and some of them were aligned to the ‘lungi’ factory.
The meeting started with a song about the plight of the working class and a plea for better living. The GRANITE project coordinator welcomed the participants and explained the objectives of the meeting. A few questions on the issues related to globalisation and WTO were asked to the participants. The weavers had no idea about the national level policies let alone the WTO related issues. However, the weavers were aware of the schemes by the State Government. Dhananjayan of READT spoke on the current challenges in the handloom sector in India. The resource materials in Tamil language were distributed to the attendees.
The weavers associated with the factory earned better and work faster as the yarn supplied by it was of better tensile strength. Work from factory was also far more regular than that of the society, which in some areas has not supplied yarn to the weavers for more than three years! On the other hand, the yarn supplied by the society was of very poor quality and took more time to weave. Many weavers were forced to work for the factory because of the mismanagement of the cooperative society. There were a few weavers who worked for both the society as well as the factory. Also, the weavers are migrating to the cities in search of alternate employment.
Muruganandamm, a weaver from Ananthapur village shared the following views:
- The recent rains have ruined the handloom sector because the yarn could not be dried. As a result, there was no production for almost a month.
Sundaram, Sivakumar and Murugan, weavers from Royampettai village shared their views:
- Production of ‘lungi’ by the powerloom sector has affected the handloom weavers the most. The government should reserve some designs specifically for the handloom sector so that this unfair competition could be avoided. The cooperative societies supply poor quality yarn and pay insufficient wages Hence, weavers prefer to work in the ‘lungi’ making factories that supply better quality yarn and better wages, including advance payment that is very helpful during the lean periods. The independent weavers as well as members of the cooperative societies take job orders from the factories. Each village has a single society and the membership or share has increased to Rs 1000 per person. The society in Royampettai village owes a debt of Rs 4 lakhs since it is plagued with malpractices. Since the society does not supply yarn, weavers are forced to go to a neighbouring village to purchase yarn. Under the weavers’ infrastructure scheme, Rs 7,000 is given by the government to set up a new loom. The weaver has to contribute Rs 2, 000 as his/her share. In reality, out of Rs 7, 000, Rs 2, 000 is demanded as a bribe. When questioned, the society officials cancel the membership of the weavers.
- Apart from the weavers’ infrastructure scheme, there was a labour scheme that provides for a sum of Rs 1 lakh on the death of a weaver. The Central Government has a scheme for building houses for weavers. Unlike farmers or fishermen, weavers do not have any scheme that protects them against floods and other natural disasters.
Kartikeyan and S Dhandapani, weavers from a nearby village shared the following views:
- To weave 40 meters, which make one length of hank yarn, a weaver, on an average, requires six to seven days. For this, a weaver is paid Rs 350 of which Rs 30 is deducted for the weavers’ savings scheme. This amount is insufficient to sustain their family. The health-related problems like back pain and asthma prevent the weaver from working continuously. So, a weaver takes more than a week to finish 40 meters weaving.
- Some categories of textiles & clothing (T&C) must be ear marked to protect the sector against competition. Powerloom woven lungis are being sold for Rs 50 whereas a handloom woven ‘lungi’ cannot be sold for less than Rs 150. Wages paid by the powerloom factory is much more than those of the cooperative societies.
As a reminder, a few participants who had benefited from exporting the handloom fabric and made-ups to the western market narrated their experience. For better future, the fair trade weavers were urged to form Self-Help Groups (SHGs).
The farmers reported a shift in growing trend from high input crop such as rice to low input herbs such as colius that are well suited to the dry weather conditions.
Sundaramurthy and Ramasamy, farmers from the nearby village voiced the following concerns:
- Most sugarcane farmers prefer to sell their product to the private sugar mills at the rate of Rs 850/tonne, which is lower than the price fixed by government, which is Rs1080/tonne because private buyers give an advance for cutting the cane and make the final payment within 15 days whereas the government takes more than 6 months. With the closing down of big sugar mills such as Arunachala Sugar Mills, many of the farmers have suffered great losses. Agriculture marketing committee, which is accessible only by license holders, cheat the farmers on the weights and the staff demand 5 percent bribe for goods bought by them.
Maniyan from KezhiPennathur village shared the common concerns of his villagers as well as the neighbouring villages:
- Farmers are not aware of the various schemes of the government as this information is neither displayed publicly nor communicated to the farmers;
- Seeds, fertilizer and agricultural equipment that are supposed to be available to the farmers are never available at the agriculture cooperative societies, as they are either sold in the black market or smuggled and sold in the open market at higher rates. Therefore, the benefits of subsidy never reach the farmers;
- Panchayat leaders are corrupt and the government scheme benefits only a handful, especially those who are close to them. Government does not provide credit facilities for emergency purposes. A waiting period of three months pushes the farmers to the private moneylenders who charge very high interest rates. The agriculture banks do not give receipts and thereby claim that farmers are defaulting;
- Soil testing is not carried out at all. Therefore, the administration of fertilisers and pesticides are totally arbitrary;
- The number of 3 AO/village is non-existent with 1 AO for 7 villages. The gram sevak and Block Development Officer (BDO) hardly go to the village to convey the arrival of new schemes or products; The tractor purchase scheme that offers a discount of 50 percent to any backward caste, Scheduled Caste (SC) or Scheduled Tribe (ST) is a farce because not a single farmer has been able to avail this opportunity;
- Water for cultivation is another big problem in the district, which has increased due to the poor maintenance of ponds or eri’s that were once a source of it, but now have been encroached by the agriculturist themselves;
- Cards identifying below poverty line (BPL) families’ needs to be reviewed again as some BPL families get 20 kgs of rice whereas certain non-BPL families get up to 35 kgs;
- Seeds supplied by the government are so poor in quality that most of them do not even germinate. Farmers are completely unaware about Genetically Modified (GM) seeds and they are using it without knowing the repercussions.
Corruption seemed to be the single largest hindrance to the development of both agriculture and textiles sectors in Tiruvannamalai. Farmers and weavers were told about the ‘Right to Information Act 2005’, whereby citizen could demand information from the government officials. There was a pressing need amongst the farmers to unite to improve their living conditions