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Govt of India handicrafts policy riddled with neglect, loss, anxiety; sector employs 45% of workforce: Dr Chatterjee

By Our Representative
Amidst rising demand from civil society advocates for a zero tax regime for handmade products, placed under the Goods and Services Tax (GST), well-known scholar, Dr Ashoke Chatterjee, has said in a recent paper that the sector, which is the second biggest source of livelihood following agriculture, remains "characterised by a pervasive mood of neglect, loss and anxiety."
The unpublished paper, a copy of which Dr Chatterjee, former director, National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, has forwarded to Counterview, regrets that "artisans have remained invisible in priorities of national planning and investment", despite the wide "acknowledgement" that handcrafts are the nation’s second largest source of livelihood, after agriculture."
Talking about his paper, Dr Chatterjee told Counterview, that indifference towards the sector was visible even during the previous UPA government, "when Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, vice chairman, Planning Commission, addressing an international seminar which I attended, characterized the handicrafts sector as a sunset sector."
Ironically, says Dr Chatterjee in his paper, a UN/World Bank-sponsored gathering in Jodhpur in 2005, identified craft as the largest component of India’s creative and cultural industries -- "an engine of growth and stability, and as perhaps the largest industry in the world, outstripping petroleum, and constituting some 3% of world GDP ($2,250 billion)."
Yet, he regrets, "At home, those who matter appeared not to be listening, even as one official report estimated that these industries were already engaging over 45% of India’s workforce." Even then, he adds, there is "absence of reliable data that could communicate the scale of artisanal contributions to the national economy."
Thus, says Dr Chatterjee, "Official estimates of over 11 million artisans (over 4.3 million weavers/workers in the handloom sector and almost 7 million other craftspersons) have remained largely unchanged since India’s Twelfth Five-Year Plan emerged in 2012. Other estimates have ranged from 73 million to 200 million. In 2015, yet another estimate reckoned that 250 million artisans were organized into some 600,000 cooperatives across the country."
Meanwhile, he adds, in 2012, a Tata Trusts-sponsored Crafts Council of India (CCI) exercise in craft pockets of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat to attempt the design a methodology reflected in the Craft Economics & Impact Study (CEIS), which finally led the Government of India "to include artisans for the first time in the Economic Census 2013". A later deliberation rejected the constraints of the ‘economic establishments’ restricted to a list of handcrafts outside the purview of the Ministry of Textiles.
Suggesting that even today things have not been finalised, Dr Chatterjee says, the NITI Aayog that now replaces the Planning Commission, as a next step, would need to carry out data collection on the basis the CCI's sample-surveys "to investigate issues arising from the new data, helping to unpack issues critical..."
Comments Dr Chatterjee, "Data on the sector’s contributions to employment and national productivity have taken criticality in a current context of building employment opportunities for some 800 million vulnerable Indians. The need for new jobs each year is estimated at between 10 million and 15 million, while a frightening prospect of ‘jobless growth’ grows as new technologies enter the mechanized sector."

Comments

Lalit Das said…
Fully agree. Zero percent GST is only a small step.

Handicraft exports from India increased by 11.07 per cent year-on-year during April 2016-March 2017 to US$ 3.66 billion. During this period, the exports of various segments registered positive growth like Shawls as Artwares (26.79 per cent), Hand printed Textiles & Scarves (25.96 per cent), Artmetal wares (19.04 per cent), Agarbatis and attars (6.76 per cent) and Embroidered & Crochetted goods (5.85 per cent).

Modern India has become a parasite living of India's traditional handicraft skills, labour and sweat. Can't we plough back 10% of the export earnings for the development and welbeing of the artisan tradition.

We need an insitution of artisans, for artisan by artisans. Only the best in the artisan tradition foster and sustain our rich artisan tradition. Lalit Kumar Das

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