Demonetisation anniversary: Reeling handicraft, artefact sectors struggling to recover, GST adds to woes

The story is the same of toy makers and those who make decorative items from papier mache and wood, paintings including Madhubani paintings.

Rashme Sehgal November 08, 2017 22:11:42 IST
Demonetisation anniversary: Reeling handicraft, artefact sectors struggling to recover, GST adds to woes

Ajmer: India's vibrant handicraft and artisan sector which provided employment to millions of people is struggling with its back to the wall following the government’s decision on demonetisation. Work has still to pick up as families struggle against tremendous odds made worse by the imposition of GST.

Demonetisation anniversary Reeling handicraft artefact sectors struggling to recover GST adds to woes

Representational image. Reuters

Members belonging to an artisan’s settlement called Babugarh in the heart of Ajmer which is home to over 1,100 families making moodas and chairs from sarkanda grass complain that note ban dealt them a body blow from which they have not recovered.

Middle-aged mooda maker Chanda Devi, a mother of two school going children said, "It's been one year since the note ban took place and the orders have still to pick up. The main problem is there is no money in the market. We buy our raw material on credit. Once our chairs, moodas, chattais etc. are made, we sell the stuff to the wholesaler. In the past, the wholesaler paid us for the entire consignment. Now they will pay us for every item sold. That means we are left to pay interest on our credit amount and sometimes a payment can take up to three months to come in."

In an attempt to diversify her skills, Chanda has started making decorative door and wall hangings used during festive occasions especially Diwali and Christmas. She said, "Diwali should have been my most lucrative season. I sold 83kg of door and wall hangings on credit to the wholesaler who will pay me back as things get sold. I had to invest in all this material which includes moti, dora, plastic flowers etc. with my own funds. So you can imagine just how cash-strapped I am at present."

If this was not bad enough, the Rajasthan government's decision that every member of the artisan community get a Bhamasha identity card and an Aadhaar card which will then entitle them to an artisan’s identity card has thrown them into further confusion.

None of them is tech-savvy. These families would have turned to touts to help them get these cards made were it not for the providential intervention of some volunteers from Sahaya Single Window working in Ajmer who have helped some of these artisans get the cards made free of cost. Chanda Devi was one of them.

Said Chanda, "Getting the Bhamasha and Aadhaar cards were a prerequisite for me to get an artisan card. This now entitles me to several benefits. I have been able to attend two state government-sponsored craft promotion exhibitions held in Ajmer and Jaipur. Not only was my bus fare covered to attend these functions but I also got free food and a Rs 500 per day allowance when I went to Jaipur."

But the plight of 50-year-old Kaku Devi of Bagdi Basti also from Ajmer sums up the plight of these artisans.

"Our community members took a loan of Rs 7 lakh this year from a Sindhi money lender to make idols of Ganesh which we sell by doing pheris around the time of Diwali. The cost of raw material has gone up. Last year, the cost of plaster of Paris required to make the idols was much cheaper," said Kaku.

What Kaku and her group did not realise was that this year a street vendor license was a pre-requisite to sell their products and so their entire effort went waste.

"Last year because of demonetisation, we were in no position to raise money to make our idols. This year, we have taken a loan of high interest but again, we have been stopped from selling our stuff," said Kaku.

The story is the same across the country. Take the example of the Tirupur textile industry in Tamil Nadu which had built up its reputation on the basis of 8,500 small scale, medium and large firms with a turnover of over Rs 40,000 crore every year. These companies were supplying to larger companies who in turn were exporting a large part of these textiles. Following demonetisation, there are not even 500 companies functioning here with large numbers of the women workers having been laid off. Rivals in the US and the European Union have gained at India’s expense much to the chagrin of the former owners.

Or take the case of the famous handloom saris of West Bengal. Work in the workshops of Shantipuri taant saris employing over 30,000 weavers in Phulia and Shantipur nosedived after demonetisation and weavers who used to be paid between Rs 250 to Rs 500 per day were forced to work for as little as Rs 25 per day. Sales have picked up marginally but they are nowhere close to what they were prior to demonetisation.

The famous 120 leather factories supplying the distinctive leather work in the Shantiniketan region resulted in over 1,000 artisans lose their jobs The trade was gasping for breath as demand had dipped since the second week of November last year. Many small factories had been forced to lay off workers and most of those laid off have not resumed their jobs since.

There was no handloom and artisan sector which was not hit by demonetisation.

Workers in Peetal Nagri in Moradabad pointed out that artisans and labourers who work in the brass industry continue to be hard hit. Earnings have shrunk to less than half with many people having lost their jobs. The brassware industry with a turnover of Rs 8,000 crore employing 3-4 lakh artisans and workers have seen the workforce come down substantially as also have earnings.

Workers in the lak bangles industry complained against demonetisation and GST. As Noor Mohammed of Jaipur who makes lak bangles said, "Demonetisation brought our sales down by half. Now with GST, we are being taxed 5 percent and that has worsened our plight."

The story is the same of toy makers and those who make decorative items from papier mache and wood, paintings including Madhubani paintings.

Thousands of handloom weavers weaving the legendary Benarasi saris also complained how this "twin evil" has affected them. Thread suppliers, wholesalers and even weavers are now being expected to pay GST on the saris. This twin complaint against demonetisation and GST resounds across all sectors.

Rural India and the informal sector have been worst hit by demonetisation especially since no organisation has come up with a comprehensive survey on how adverse its impact has been. Demonetisation may have been done in the name of the poor but it has hurt them the most and they have paid the highest price for it.

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