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Skill training? Modi scheme 'ignores' weavers, who are the biggest category of artisans

By Bharat Dogra* 

On September 17, 2023 the Indian government launched its scheme for traditional artisans and crafts persons which had been announced earlier on August 15 Independence Day. This scheme, called PM Vishwakarma Scheme (PM-VS), has a budget of INR 13,000 crore to be spent over the next five years up to 2027-28, or an average annual budget of INR 2,600 crore, largely on collateral-free loans and skills training. The scheme has been placed under the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.
The scheme has been started for helping 18 traditional trades including carpenters, boat makers, armourers, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, locksmiths, potters, sculptors, stone-breakers, cobblers/ shoemakers, masons, basket/mat/broom makers, coir weavers, doll and toy makers, barbers, garland makers, tailors, fishing net makers, hammer and toolkit makers and washermen. This scheme is aimed at benefiting 30 lakh families. The skills component consists of a 5-day workshop with daily stipend and a voucher for buying tools worth INR 5000.
This scheme appears welcome because artisans have been facing a lot of difficulties and so an important scheme for them was overdue. However, it should be clarified, particularly as this is largely a loan-based scheme, that once the loans are all returned, then again these will be used for the welfare of artisans only.
Conceptually also this scheme can be improved much as very different categories have been grouped together. To give an example, washer men and barbers have been grouped along with goldsmiths and blacksmiths. 
One has rarely heard of barbers being described as artisans. The schemes for various service groups would be different from various crafts groups, so it would be better to group them separately. One hopes that proper training which is really beneficial for all these groups can be designed in the near future.
It is surprising that while the biggest category of artisans of weavers (as well related work like spinners) is not included here, less known categories like armourers have been included.
Further it may be asked -- is it really loans that these various groups need to come out of their present-day difficult conditions? The problems of weavers are related to a range of problems from economic exploitation of those in the bottom groups to denial of raw materials to handloom weavers being denied a fair share of the market to khadi units not being run on the true precepts of the khadi movement. 
The problems of potters are related to difficulty in getting the raw material to various restrictions on carrying out their traditional work to getting a fair price for their products. The bamboo based artisans also have similar problems. Even fishing net makers have problems relating to the increasing marginalization of the artisanal, non-mechanized sector in fisheries.
Many artisans have strong traditions of imparting skills of their own. It remains to be seen how the government will organize skill training for these different categories within a short period and how genuinely useful these will be. One hopes that we do not having a situation of what is being done being different from what is really needed.
Suprisingly, washermen and barbers have been grouped along with goldsmiths and blacksmiths
It may be noted here that the progress of some of the already existing skills and training programs, which were relatively easier to implement, has been quite tardy. This can be seen from the progress of some of the schemes under the role of the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Government of India. 
In the first 10 months of the financial year 2022-23 (to be more precise 10 months and one week, up to February 8, 2023), only 23 per cent of the originally allocated funds of this Ministry ( INR 691 crore out of INR 2999 crore) were actually spent, indicating clearly a very low rate of utilization.
The Standing Parliamentary Committee on Labour, Textiles and Skill Development has drawn attention to what it has called “extremely poor utilization of funds” in its recently submitted report ( 43rd report, 17th Lok Sabha, report on the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship). This report has also provided details for fund utilization in the context of various specific schemes, or rather sub-schemes of the wider Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana. 
In the case of Development of Skills, a sum of INR 1643 crore was allocated (Budget Estimate or BE), but actual expenditure during the first 10 months was only INR 121 crore. In other words only 7 per cent of the announced Budget Estimate funds were utilized for so important a task. This is clearly a very low utilization, and very unfortunate considering the importance of this work.
In the case of Development of Entrepreneurship the Budget Estimate was INR 50 crore but only INR 1.9 crore was actually spent, just a token sum as hardly anything can be achieved for less than 2 crore at national level. Thus fund utilization in the first 10 months was less than 4 per cent for such an important task.
For SANKALP scheme of skills and livelihoods INR 300 crore was sanctioned but only INR 100 crore was spent in 10 months. For STRIVE scheme of skills and enhancement of industrial value a sum of INR 300 crore was allocated but only INR 66 crore were spent.
One hopes sincerely that in the case if PM-VS there will be better planning and preparation to ensure better progress of proper loan-utilization (and genuine progress of artisans based on this) as well as skill-development.
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*Honorary convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include “Man over Machine”, “When the Two Streams Met” and “A Day in 2071”

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