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Alarm bells ring over cheaper Bhagalpuri eri

Guwahati, Jan. 16: A Guwahati-based NGO has expressed concern over a cheaper variety of eri shawls (sador) from Bihar flooding the markets of Assam.

“Despite Assam producing about 95 per cent of the eri cocoons, only 20 to 25 per cent of it are used to make eri sadors here while the rest are sent to the mills of Bhagalpur in Bihar by an unscrupulous section of traders. In return, a thread of inferior quality is sent to Bijoynagar in south Kamrup district of Assam, which was once known for its flourishing eri trade,” alleged Sadananda Choudhury, secretary of Muga, the NGO.

Choudhury said the eri sador made in Bhagalpur is almost 10 times cheaper, hence, more in demand here.

“The thread used to make the eri sador in Bhagalpur is of inferior quality and hence, the product would be cheaper by almost 10 times. For example, a hand-woven eri sador in Assam costs between Rs 3,500 and Rs 6,500 while the one made in Bihar sells for anything between Rs 350 and Rs 600. Hence, there is a greater demand for the variety which resembles the original product,” he said.

Sualkuchi, Assam’s silk village about 35km from here, was on the boil last year when products of Benarasi silk were being sold as Assam textiles by wholesalers. This led to clashes between artis-ans/local traders with the police and subsequent clamping of an indefinite curfew.

The situation, however, was controlled later with Dispur announcing short-term steps to check the practice. The steps included asking retailers to separately display the two products in their shops, making it mandatory for shops dealing in both products to mention the same clearly on their signboards and constitution of special enforcement squads to check the practice.

The NGO further alleged that a majority of eri shawls available in the Khadi Board, ARTFED and the like are from Bhagalpur.

An eri hub, Bijoynagar, is about 32km from Guwahati. About 150 villages in south Kamrup are engaged in eri cultivation.

“The conspiracy by a section of traders to malign the image of Assam eri began in 2006. A couple of years later, an artificial shortage of eri was created in Bijoynagar and during the period, a cheaper variety of thread and synthetic fibre (costing between Rs 350 and Rs 650 per kg) from Bihar made its way to shops here. Consumers accepted the product because the original eri thread costs Rs 1,600 to Rs 2,800 per kg,” Choudhury said.

The organisation today appealed to the authorities to put an end to the dispatch of eri cocoons to Bihar and asked consumers to be more careful while making a purchase.

“The eri trade is dying and it is important for the government to stop the practice of dispatching eri cocoons to Bhagalpur and entry of the inferior thread from there,” said Chandan Keshav of Boko, who imparts training on natural dye applications.

“In Bijoynagar, there is an artificial shortage created by a section (of traders) who export the eri cocoons to Bihar after hoarding them. So, for almost half the year, the mills (at Chaygaon near Bijoynagar and another in Kokrajhar) stay idle,” Keshav added.