Silk. It is the most regal of fabrics and adds a spark to any attire. India’s history is linked to this famed fabric as it drew the early colonisers to the Indian shores. Most Indian states have mastered the production of this fabric and have added their distinct nuances to it. In West Bengal, the district of Murshidabad is famous for sericulture. Apart from the famed Murshidabad silk sarees, the district is also famous for its printed silk sarees and katha embroidered silk sarees. Silk fabric is also dyed in batik designs.
Present market of silk fabric
The shiny fabric is traditionally preferred by the affluent sections and is one of the most expensive fabrics in the Indian market. According to market sources, the average price of silk is around `4000 per kilogramme. The industry provides employment to around 7.9 million people in the country. In 2016-17, export of silk and silk products from India stood at $248.59 million. Readymade silk garments formed the largest segment, generating around 68% of the export earnings. Most of the silk importing countries are prominent developed economies.
BE interacted with silk weavers in Mirzapur village, Jangipur 2 block, Murshidabad district. Tapas Guchi, a private weaver from the village, informed, “Most of our village residents are involved in silk manufacturing. I believe that the collective yearly turnover of the village in terms of silk products will be around `50 crore. This includes sarees as well as other silk products.”
He added, “Most of our products are bought in bulk by some of the top saree retail outlets in Kolkata and from other cities. Brands like Priya Gopal Bishoyi are our regular partners.”
Impact of GST
According to market insiders, the GST might negatively impact the sector. Many of the weavers informed BE that previously their products were not under sales tax and VAT. However, with GST, a 5% taxation is levied on handmade items. There are apprehensions in the market that the newly introduced taxation system might push up the prices of silk products and negatively impact its market.
Problems and governmental response
The silk industry is suffering from a serious capital shortage in West Bengal. There are three types of fund generating processes for weavers, namely, mahajon, nagad dan and samiti. The private weavers mostly work alone and are dependent on the mahajon (money lender) and the nagad dan processes.
In the mahajon system, the weaver is credited the thread which is the most expensive part of the production process. All other inputs are to be bought by the weaver. In many cases, weavers need to borrow money to buy the other inputs and this leads to a debt trap. After the completion of the weaving process, the weaver is to return the produced garments to the money-lender in accordance to the amount of thread borrowed by him. The margin for the weaver remains low.
In the case of nagad dan, the money-lender will lend money for the weaver to purchase thread and other inputs. Here, the onus of selling the garments is with the weaver and he is to return the borrowed money to the money-lender after selling his products. In the case of favourable market conditions, the margin remains relatively higher for the weaver.
The samiti (cooperative) system remains the most favourable for weavers. Here the government provides active support to the weaving community. They provide thread in kilogrammes and also receive garments in weight. Additionally, the government grants the weavers facilities like bonus and provident fund. Additionally, with government participation, weavers are provided better amenties which increase their production. However, the weavers associated with silk production informed that the lions’ share of coopertivisation has involved khadi weavers and has mostly left their community in the dark.
According to Tapas Guchi, “A plain gorod saree which takes around two days to be weaved fetches around `200 or `400 for the weaver. If it is printed or designed with art work, it will fetch around `900 to `2000 depending on the jacquard. It will typically take around six days to weave this product.”
Guchi also informed that the present situation for the weavers in Murshidabad is deteriorating due to low profitability. Due to diminishing margins, a lot of weavers have stopped their craft and have moved to other professions. The younger generations are not interested in weaving and the trade might fade away if the government doesn’t intervene. He told BE, “When I was a boy learning the trade, there were around 500 to 600 looms which has now reduced to 250.”
Governmental support needs to be expedited. The looms provided by the government are not at par with the best in the market. The government is involved with the cooperatives but there is no perceivable effort to expand the ambit of these cooperatives so as to involve more weavers into their ambit. Expanding the scope of governmental support remains vital to the revival of the famed muslin trade of Murshidabad.