The union budget 2018 will be the fifth budget under the Narendra Modi government that will be presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in Parliament on 1 February. The hope is that the budget will bolster the country’s textile industry, which has the maximum employment potential, after agriculture, and also has the largest number of weavers in the world, comprising mostly women.
Here are some of the expectations from budget 2018:
When it comes to tax, both handloom and power loom textiles are currently treated alike, as it is difficult for the government to differentiate between the two. Registered cooperatives solely into handloom textiles must be exempted from any kind of tax, irrespective of the income they earn. Developing a handwoven handloom fabric requires a lot more time and effort as compared to a power loom fabric. Even if certain individuals or organisations wish to promote handloom, and certain artisans want to devote their time in making fabric, they can’t compete in terms of the production finesse and cost of mass manufacturing. For instance, it takes six days to design one metre of Kinkhab Banarasi Zari fabric. Therefore, the budget should consider that all handlooms should not be given the same treatment as power looms. The time, energy and effort put into handlooms must be honoured and celebrated and hence must be free from any taxation.
Similarly, natural yarns should also be exempt from taxation, whether silk or cotton. If we wish to compete with the mass-produced synthetics, there is a need to create a level-playing field for cotton and synthetics. Moreover, usage of natural dyes, local produce, naturally and locally produced complementary dyes, yarns, blocks, colours, and processes should be exempt from any kind of tax as against the synthetics and cheaper material. This is important to highlight the produce of the state as well as promote it across the population and encourage them to use and wear it. The penetration of synthetics is so intense that even the utmost innards of the rural areas are wearing 100 per cent polyester due to the difference in prices.
What the handloom industry and production of craft-based fabrics suffer from, today, is mainly quality. The need of the hour is to create a standardised system governed by a dedicated body of government – a subdivision or an allocation in the Ministry of Textiles that works on the standardisation of artisanal produce. A body that improves, standardises, funds and certifies the current level of quality of artisanal producers of textiles and craft-based fabrics.
Today, the fabrics used for developing clothing such as indigo, tie & dye, dabu, and other dye-based crafts, suffer heavily in terms of quality, texture, longevity and adaptability due to the use of sub-par dyes and techniques of washing and treating of the fabrics, whether in the pre- or the post-processing stages. Crafts that are hallmarks of the rich cultural vibrancy of India, centres of which are states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, to name a few, require a central government body to certify each artisanal produce much on the lines of what Food Safety and Standards Authority of India does to processed food produce.
For wider outreach, pro-active certification should be offered to artisans, giving the consumers a certified and justifiable level of quality, while also giving the local crafts and craftsmen their due credit and recognition for their craftsmanship. This is the main reason why artisanal produce has not become mainstream and the go-to fabric yet. The standardisation efforts thus far have been made by big conglomerates or corporates who have the resources to indulge in providing a private mark or certification, which has not allowed the small- and medium-level participants or startups such as ours to take advantage of the authentic, handwoven handloom crafts. This can only happen when all the artisanal produce has a degree of standardisation to ensure quality. The budget should aim at improved infrastructure, education and skill-set training to nurture the industry as it looks promising with demands of domestic and export consumption.