The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Handloom survival at stake
- Post-WTO era from 2005 signals diversification, export as lifeline

There is a desperate need for the government to upgrade and modernise its textile sector to face the challenges post-January 1, 2005. That’s when textile and clothing will come under the WTO framework, when restriction on imports to the country will be lifted, when the consumer will be spoilt for choice.

The alarm has been sounded loud by a report compiled by West Bengal Consultancy Organisation Limited (Webcon). “The commerce and industries department assigned Webcon the job, and officials of the two departments discussed the observations in the report last week,” said cottage and small-scale industries secretary Mira Pande.

The handloom sector is under a grave threat, with the Bengal government still struggling to promote it, despite the inherent merits of design and style. “The age-old handloom sector is suffering from its inherent resistance to modern techniques of design development, the limited flow of finance and weak management...” says the Webcon report.

“The organised mill sector is constantly losing ground to the decentralised sector, leading to closure of units and suspension of work. The major cause of sickness in this sector is the lack of modernisation,” the report adds.

The powerloom itself could pose a problem for the handloom sector in the post-WTO era. Since the scope of technically upgrading the handloom sector is limited, it would be difficult for handloom to compete with powerloom products in terms of cost. Also, the mass market for handloom products will be eroded by the powerloom sector.

“With a large variety of products available in the market at reasonable rates from 2005, consumers may shun handloom products. Bengal’s textile industry cannot survive on products with such limited use,” admitted a senior Writers’ Buildings official.

As a survival strategy, therefore, handloom weavers will have to diversify and also focus more on export. And the government must ensure that designers are engaged to bolster this sector.

Webcon’s report also suggests that the government at the earliest develop an international apparel mart, on the lines of the one at Gurgaon, a hi-tech weaving powerloom park, an export-oriented handloom park and a hosiery park.

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