By: Sherry Lalthangzo
North Eastern Region of India is the true example of unity in diversity. With more than 225 tribes, around 220 languages and dialects, biodiversity including hilly terrains, streams, plain land, rivers, and cloud kissed hills, this land is unique in many senses. Although this part of India occupies approximately only 8% of India’s geographical area and 4% of India’s population, it holds utmost strategic importance as it shares 5,300 km of international borders with countries such as China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Myanmar. It is also the doorway for South East Asia and development work is underway following Government’s ‘Act East’ policy.
The rich flora and fauna of the region is a major economic driver for the local population. Traditionally, sectors such as tea, handicrafts, sericulture, fisheries, livestock, and poultry have been the major contributor in the economy of the state. Women play pivotal and important role in the North East culture and economy.
Over the last decade, the region has witnessed a surge in the industrial and service sectors. Between, 2012 and 2018, Mizoram and Tripura were amongst the fastest-growing state economies in the country with Mizoram topping the chart.
Ministry of Textiles has taken many significant initiatives to strengthen Handloom, Handicrafts, Silk, and Jute sectors for the North East Region which will not only support in social inclusiveness but will contribute to Prime Minister’s vision of making the economy USD 5 Trillion by 2024-25.
The handloom sector of India exhibits the rich and diverse heritage of our country along with the skills and artistry of weavers. The sector holds cultural significance due to its inextricable connection with the age-old traditions which have been inherited by the weavers over generations, with the earliest evidence tracing back to the Indus Valley civilization. The uniqueness of designs, intricacies and, complexities of weaves, the flexibility of production are some of the unique characteristics of this sector. Different parts of India produce distinct styles – muslin of Chanderi, Varanasi brocades, and tie and die products of Rajasthan, Patola sarees from Patan, himroos of Hyderabad, phulkari and Khes from Punjab, Daccai and Jamdani from Bengal and traditional designs like Phenek and Tongam from Assam and Manipur, puan from Mizoram.
This sector has a unique place in the Indian economy owing to its ability to provide low cost, green livelihood opportunities to millions of households living in rural India. Weaving is an integral part of the culture throughout the North-Eastern Region (NER) states, with Assam having the highest number of handloom worker households (12.7 lakhs) in the country. According to the Fourth All India Handloom Census 2019-2020, the total number of households in India engaged in handloom activities (weaving and allied activities) is 31.45 lakhs, out of which 18.35 lakhs households are from NER states.
Out of the total 35.23 lakh handloom workers, more than 70% are women who are getting empowered by this sector through financial independence and improved self-worth both within and outside of their homes. This sector also plays an important socio-cultural role by providing employment to 11.13 lakh handloom workers from the SC/ST community. Owing to its size, employment potential, and social, economic and cultural significance in the Indian landscape, it is important to preserve and strengthen India’s rich handloom heritage. Focusing on the welfare of the weaver community will also help in attaining inclusive growth and achieving SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG 10: Reduce Inequalities and SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.
The Government of India has been dedicatedly supporting the sector with a view to safeguarding these products of pride and national importance. Ministry of Textiles has launched several key interventions and schemes to aid the weavers and enhance the productivity of this sector. The success of many such interventions has led to more than 10% increase in the number of households engaged in handloom activities over the past decade. Several flagship schemes include National Handloom Development Programme (NHDP), Handloom Weavers Comprehensive Welfare Scheme, Yarn Supply Scheme, Weaver MUDRA Scheme, Hathkharga Samvardhan Sahayata, and Capacity Building under SAMARTH, Comprehensive Handloom Cluster Development Scheme and North East Region Textiles Promotion Scheme (NERTPS).
Under the umbrella scheme of NERTPS, 195 Cluster Development Projects (CDP) development projects with a financial outlay of Rs. 98.08 crore are under implementation in the states. The main objective is to develop the handloom sector in NER by providing the required government support to increase in employment and value of handloom products. The support is provided for construction of work sheds, design interventions, product diversification, and marketing. Under CDP, 1542 individual work sheds have been constructed in Meghalaya and 1268 in Mizoram, which has helped weavers increase their productivity and income from handloom products. A total of 306 group work sheds have been constructed in 51 clusters in Manipur, housing 7 looms/work shed, which has enabled weavers to work for more days in a year, thereby increasing their production. The engagement of designers and use of the Computer Aided Textile Design (CATD) has benefitted the weavers in Manipur and Sikkim by improvement in design capability, diversification of product lines, value addition in products and increasing sales. Corpus fund has been utilized to set up Yarn Depots, where acrylic, cotton, wool, and polyester yarn has been supplied to weavers within 1-2 weeks, which is an improvement from the earlier turnaround time of 3-4 weeks required to procure yarn from NHDC. Under Technology Upgradation Project in Sikkim, looms and accessories such as Frame Looms and Dobby/Jacquard/ Heads, bobbins, shuttles, etc. have been provided to more than 600 weavers in the state.
Handicrafts form an integral part of the lifestyle of the local people of the North-East. It is a source of livelihood for a large number of artisans spread across the region. The 8 NE states have a total of 115 handicraft clusters (15% share of total clusters in India) that provide a livelihood to more than 35,000 people (17% in total employment in the handicraft sector in India). Cane and bamboo items, Hand Embroidery, Stone & wood carving, Metal ware, etc. are the major crafts in the North Eastern region of the country.
Office of the Development of Commissioner (Handicrafts) is implementing the National Handicrafts Development Programme and the Comprehensive Handicrafts Cluster Development Scheme (CHCDS) for providing support on design, technology upgradation, infrastructure development, research and development, market support, etc. to handicrafts clusters in the country. These schemes are aimed at the integrated and comprehensive development of the entire handicraft sector, with a special focus on the North East region.
The NERTPS scheme, wherein all the soft and hard intervention of NHDP schemes are applicable, is currently operational in two North Eastern States i.e. Nagaland and Manipur, for Handicraft sector.
The North-Eastern region of India has been practicing sericulture over a long period of time with the origins of oak tasar culture dating back some decades. The region holds a unique position in India’s sericulture landscape as it produces all major varieties of silk i.e. mulberry, tasar, eri, and muga. The raw silk production in these states constitutes more than 21% of India’s raw silk production. It has grown at a CAGR of 11% between 2015-16 and 2018-19 outpacing India’s total production growth (i.e. 7%) during the same time period. Assam and Meghalaya are the key raw silk producing states with a majority 82% share amongst the 8 states. Silk sarees, mekhela chaddar (traditional outfits) are amongst the key products manufactured in this region using silk.
Given its geographical advantage, this region holds great potential for further development of the sericulture industry. Further, the livelihood and business opportunities that can be generated through this sector will help the development of the entire North-East economy. Hence, the Government of India has given special emphasis on the development of sericulture in this region. Under Ministry of Textiles’ NERTPS (North East Region Textile Promotion) scheme, Government has approved 38 Sericulture projects in all North Eastern States in the identified potential districts under three broad categories viz., Integrated Sericulture Development Project (ISDP), Intensive Bivoltine Sericulture Development Project (IBSDP) and Aspirational Districts. The key focus of these projects is to create necessary infrastructure and impart skills to the locals for silkworm rearing and allied activities in the value chain. The aim of these projects is to increase the raw silk production by 2,650 MT and generating employment of more than 3 lakh people and also to fulfill the “Make in India” initiative taken by Prime Minister of India.
To strengthen the sericulture infrastructure in the region, the government had approved 16 projects under ISDP with an allocated budget of Rs.586.17 crore (GoI share is Rs. 483.35 crores). These projects were aimed towards supporting plantation and supply of quality seeds in all NE states, setting up Silk Printing & Processing unit for Tripura, Soil to Silk for BTC (Assam) and Post Cocoon Technology for Nagaland.
GoI had also approved 8 projects under IBSDP with an overall budget of Rs. 236.78 crores (GoI share is Rs. 210.41 crores) to produce high quality bivoltine silk which is currently being imported. The project was aimed to enhance the quality of silk produced across 4,000 acres of mulberry plantations in NE states (except Manipur) and benefit more than 9,000 women stakeholders. These activities will go a long way in import substitution and can also make NER an exporting hub of raw and value added silk products.
Till March 2019, about 30,652 acres havebeen brought under host plantation of Mulberry, Eri and Muga covering41,026 beneficiaries and produced 2,614 MT of raw silk. Also, 85% of the allocated GoI budget has been utilized in these projects until the mentioned date.
Realizing the growth and future potential, Ministry of Textiles approved 14 new projects in 2018-19 aimed towards establishing silk mills, bivoltine sericulture development, women empowerment, and development of aspirational districts. The total allocated budget for these projects was Rs. 284.02 crores (GoI share is Rs. 261.30 crores).
In terms of Jute agriculture, Assam is the only state with a significant presence with approximately 9% share in India’s raw jute production. The other three states that have some presence of jute agriculture in North East are Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Tripura with a combined share of only 1% in the country’s total production.
In 2015, Jute-ICARE (Improved Cultivation and Advanced Retting Exercise) was launched to popularize/introduce some of these better agronomic practices and recently developed microbial consortium assisted retting among farmers intensively in Assam and West Bengal. In subsequent years, Meghalaya was also included under the purview of the scheme. Over its implementation period, the scheme has had positive outcomes that include increase of yield by 10-15%, reduction of retting time from an average 22 days to 13 days, improvement in Jute grade by at least 1.5 grades. Based on the successful outcome of this scheme, it was decided to replicate the programme for the improvement of jute farming in the coming years covering more areas, benefitting more jute farmers and finally to all the jute growing areas covering all jute farmers. Better seed and cultivation methods will also be made available to farmers.
Other Jute related schemes being implemented in North East include ‘Promotion of Jute Geo textiles/Agro textiles’, ISAPM (Incentive Scheme for Acquisition of Plant &Machinery), JIDS (Jute Integrated Development Scheme), JRMB (Jute Raw Material Bank Scheme), etc.
The North East has taken significant initiatives to use Jute Geotextiles for civil engineering applications. Till now, approximately 4 million sq. mtr. of jute geotextiles has been utilized in these states, mainly for slope stabilization purposes. It is observed that Jute Geotextiles have been highly effective in the construction of rural roads, railway tracks in hilly areas, stabilization of earthen and hill slopes and growth of seedling/saplings, land-slide prevention, etc. In terms of the uptake of other schemes, it is still in nascent stage in the North Eastern Region with huge potential.
Covid-19 pandemic has brought about untold hardships and with most rating houses forecasting a gloomy economic scenario, people engaged in the Textiles sector are also bound to face the brunt of economic slowdown and the aftermath. The RBI on Friday indicating India’s GDP growth to be in negative territory in 2020-21 as the outbreak has disrupted economic activities, it’s time to take stock and take proactive steps to capitalize and innovate on the given challenge.
How India became the second largest producer of PPE after China in two month’s time with zero production facility in February 2020 to how swab testing kit could be produced in a week’s time, again from zero production, producing at a fraction of the market price are stories that’ll be repeated over and over again in days to come. We are enterprising people, dedicated and very talented. We can produce designer masks and supply to the world. E-commerce has to be used in a big way for all produce from the North East. Talent throve of people who’ve returned home will now have to use their skills in e-market platforms. Normal cotton and designer masks are being sold in the e-market platform everywhere and we must grab this opportunity. Let’s reach the world.
The 20.06 laksh cr. package announced by the Prime Minister includes slew of assistance for the MSME sector that’ll help the Textiles industries operating in the region as well including the just approved Rs 3 lakh crore Emergency Working Capital Facility for Businesses, including MSMEs. This will enable additional funding of up to Rs. three lakh crore to eligible MSMEs and interested MUDRA borrowers by way of “Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme which will provide 100% guarantee coverage by National Credit Guarantee Trustee Company Limited (NCGTC) for additional funding of up to Rs. three lakh crore to eligible MSMEs and interested MUDRA borrowers, in the form of a Guaranteed Emergency Credit Line (GECL) facility. (The writer is the Economic Adviser, Ministry of Textiles)