Government of India's textile ministry has abolished the All India Handicrafts Board and the All India Handloom Board " advisory bodies created to help the government in "formulation of the overall development programmes" in the handicrafts and handloom sectors, "keeping in view socio-economic cultural and artistic perspective."
As per two resolutions passed by the Office of the Development Commissioner for Handlooms, dated 27 July 2020, and by the Office of the Development Commissioner for Handicrafts, dated 3 August 2020, this move was taken "in consonance with the Government of India vision of 'Minimum Government and Maximum Governance' and leaner government machinery and the need for systematic rationalisation of government bodies."
The handicrafts board was established in 1952 by Pupul Jayakar and was handled by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. Laila Tyabji of Dastkar took to Facebook to express her concern and disappointment with this surprising move by the government. "All these years on, it [AIHB] remained the one official forum, however watered down, where the voices and views of weavers and craftspeople could be expressed directly," she wrote on her social media page. She said the 70-year-old board was "one place where representatives of the sector were present in considerable numbers, and were actually empowered to advise the government in policy and sectorial spending."
She further wrote: "The spaces where people themselves can interact directly with government, or be part of their own governance, are certainly becoming leaner and increasingly few in number. It is worrying."
The relatively newer body, All India Handloom Board, was constituted on 23 January 1992. Over the years, it has been reconstituted periodically, and comprised official members from the central and state governments and non-official members from the handloom industry, according to the Ministry of Textiles website. Before its dissolution, the prevailing strength of the handicrafts board was 114, comprising the Chairperson, Co-Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, 14 official members, 8 institutional members including Member Secretary, and 88 non-official members.
In the wake of this development, public policy reviewer and campaigner, Dr D Narasimha Reddy has written a statement opposing the abolition of these advisory bodies by the government. "India wants to forget Bharat. 'Make in India' becomes 'Rake in India', without traditional livelihoods," Dr Reddy tells Firstpost.
"Handloom weavers are facing severe livelihood crisis. Primarily, despite highly rated skills and widely appreciated products, income flows have been an issue for families dependent on handloom weaving," reads the statement. It sheds light on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown on the families of weavers across India, and also highlights the impact of demonetisation and GST imposition on handloom products.
The statement further says: "The annual handloom budget allocations have been reducing over the years. Currently, these families have been looking for support from governments in these hard times. They were disappointed that the Aatmanirbhar Bharat package did not include them directly. It does not even refer to them, even though their contribution to GDP and national economy, in terms of wealth creation, employment and environmental conservation has been immense for decades."
Read the entire statement below:
Ashoke Chatterjee, former director at the National Institute of Design, spoke to Firstpost on this development. He says the abrupt manner in which the All India Handloom Board and the All India Handicrafts Board have been dismantled, without any consultation with the stakeholders, is not just alarming but unfathomable. "These boards have been moribund in recent times and their structures and functioning certainly warrant attention. Yet what they need is not a two-line dismissal. They need urgent reforms that can respond to the huge changes taking place in the market as well as to the depth of the current crises within which India's artisans now find themselves. 'Handmade in India' is the largest craft resource in the world, is understood as the second-largest source of Indian livelihood after agriculture and is the largest component of the country's cultural and creative industries that are globally acknowledged for their economic and social significance."
Because India's database on artisans remains unreliable due to negligence, the actual number of artisans affected by this move remains unknown, he adds. "Estimates range from 11 million artisans to over 200 million, of whom at least 4 million are weavers. (Total direct employment in the IT sector is around 4 million). Attention to the growth of handlooms and other handicrafts is needed now more than ever."
Putting forth an opposite reaction, Jaya Jaitly, founder and president of Dastakari Haat Samiti, said to Firstpost: "I am glad it has been abolished. It was made gradually useless since the beginning of the 1990s and declined continuously since. I have been personally associated with this exercise in futility since then." She says there's "no point renovating a dead object", and continues: "It is best to be rid of it and create something new, effective, dynamic in tune with an Aatmanirbhar Bharat on a clean slate, with inputs from truly experienced and knowledgeable persons rather than use it for the patronage of favourites. It became a mere ritual just like many other meaningless rituals."
" With inputs from Arshia Dhar and Suryasarathi Bhattacharya