Indian handicrafts are known for their rich variety, utility and ama-zingly vibrant designs. This tradition is con-tinuing for centuries. The sector employs rural artists who are mostly economically marginalised. The central government as well as various state governments has tried to help these artists by promoting their handicrafts through various government undertaken shops.
BE’s Kuntala Sarkar visited such government undertaken shops in Kolkata and spoke to their staff to understand the market viability of handicraft products.
West Bengal-Biswa Bangla
Biswa Bangla is West Bengal government’s branded retail outlet chain that specialises in handicraft and handloom products from West Bengal. Snehashis Sarkar, COO, Biswa Bangla Marketing Corporation informed “Our organisation looks at its own production and we are not dependent on procurement. We provide the artisans production specification sheets. We direct the artisans about the specific dye, thread and even the trim. We also send the indicative look of the final production. Artisans come with their own samples, and then those move to trial and quality test. Then comes the final production.”
Biswa Bangla tries to encourage the indigenous weavers and handicraft manufacturers of West Bengal. According to Sarkar, the role of Biswa Bangla is to develop, promote and market Bengal’s unique hand-worked items. Biswa Bangla works is to provide work to poor unorganised artists. Sarkar added, “Biswa Bangla came with a positive distortion and challenge in the field of quality of the handicraft products. For the huge demand which grew 50% in the domestic market in last two years, we are still not in the export business, though we are expecting to break this frame soon.”
Rajasthan – Rajasthali Rajasthan
Rajasthali Rajasthan is the government undertaken line of retail outlets of the Government of Rajasthan. They have their stores across the country. However, they do not directly procure handicraft items from local artisans. The Development Commissioner (Handicrafts) of the Rajasthan government collects handicrafts and handloom products from the artisans of villages like Ramsar, Sheo, Malani, Mohan Garh, Chenar, Nagaur and then the products are made available to this retail chain.
Speaking exclusively to BE, Prakash Chand Sharma, Manager-in-Charge, Rajasthali Rajasthan, Kolkata (Dakshinapan) branch, informed, “The government used to support this sector by giving subsidies and used to invest money to help the poor artists. Today, that is history. The handicraft sector as a whole has become like any other business and is not a platform for art. There is no scope to invest money in traditional paintings and mirror-worked furniture. The government is ready to invest in only those products which are easy to sell. The handicraft manufacturers are not even getting paid well.”
Assam - Pragjyotika: Assam Emporium
Pragjyotika was established in 1987 with a vision to encourage the handicraft sector of Assam. This organisation has operational outlets in Kolkata, Delhi and Guwahati. Speaking to BE on the impact of GST, Thakurpada Dey, Manager (Finance), Pragjyotika, Kolkata stated, “GST has made the business transparent. Now the online system is saving our time, but for few items the tax should be lower and that will help small weavers.” He added that as most of these weavers are not GSTIN registered, they are not getting the full benefit of GST.
The retail chain buys their products directly from the artisans who are mostly not registered under GSTIN. In doing so, they often forego the input cost benefit. Dey added, “The ‘Make in India’ projects are also not doing too well because of high GST rates.” He also informed that weavers, from whom they procure their products, get money directly in their beneficiary accounts from the Development Commissioner, Handicrafts Department of the central government.
Andhra Pradesh – Lepakshi
Lepakshi is the government undertaken handicraft retail chain of the Andhra Pradesh government. They have outlets in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Telangana and Delhi. They deal with colourful traditional products like bidri items, kalamkari sarees, Kondapalli toys, Etikoppaka toys, nirmal paintings, lea-ther items and wood carvings. In case of Lepakshi, the Deve-lopment Commissioner (Handicrafts) collects the products from the handicraft workers. The Andhra Pradesh government also gives pension to poor artisans who work under Lepakshi. K. Rohini, Manager, Lepakshi (West Bengal) informed, “In West Bengal, the market for handicrafts are not doing well. However, the handloom market is doing better in this state.” She added, “The handicraft sector should be out of GST. 90% of the products are under 12%-18% GST. This harms the profit margin and affects the small handicraft artisans and weavers directly.”