Strong rupee hits traditional crafts hard
THOUSANDS OF CHIKANKARI, JAIPURI SANGANERI, BAGRU WORKERS LOSE JOBS IN VIEW OF FALLING REVENUES CHIKANKARI from Lucknow, Jaipuri Sanganeri and Bagru prints and Phulkari from Patiala have received international acclaim but closer home these traditional crafts that involve intricate embroidery are facing the gallows. The rupee appreciation has severely hit exporters from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. These exporters who have been sending their prized collections to Europe, England and even the US since decades, are now experiencing grim times with a 25-30% drop on export revenue forcing them to lay off thousands of employees. In Uttar Pradesh about 2-3 lakh artisans, mostly women working from their homes, are estimated to be involved in making chikan clothes. So is the case with Phulkari makers in Punjab and artisans in Japur. “We are facing tough days. Not only revenue has decreased but also there is a drop in export orders. Most difficult task is to find workers as a large number have switched over to other jobs. There are around 350 units in operation generating around 70,000 direct and indirect jobs,” says a leading garment exporter from Jaipur Manmohan Badgotra. The Rs 650-crore industry which was growing at 20% a year witnessed a down slide of 30% last year. Garment Exporter Association of Rajasthan (GEAR) general secretary Rajaram Kandoi told ET: “Many exporters have packed their bags in recent times. And those who are still waiting for the sun to shine again are feeling the heat.” The exporters are trying to explore new potential markets. But hit badly by revenue deficit, they are in a tizzy. “We need to pump in huge capital for exploring opportunities in emerging markets like Latin Amercia, Russia and Australia. Once bitten twice shy – in present scenario, no exporter wants to take risk,” Mr Kandoi added. Exporters in UP are working to standardise sizes, new designs and packaging to increase exports. Though traditionally chikan garments like kurtas, shalwar-kameez, sherwanis were made, the demand of international customers has led to westernised chikan dresses also being manufactured. “The trade mark hand block printing of Jaipur is out due to dissimilarity in designing. Exporters, now, go for screen printing, which is done through machines. Things can improve only when we set up processing units in Jaipur. For that, we have approached Rajasthan government and deposited Rs 4 crore for allotment of land. But for the last 4 years, we have been waiting for the government’s nod,” adds Mr Kandoi. Indian fashion designers have popularised these crafts in India and overseas including international fashion houses to an extent but the sole support of the Indian fashion industry isn’t enough. With the Union Budget around the corner, demands for financial packages from the government are also rising. Federation of Rajasthan Home Textile and Handloom Exporters Association president Satish Katta said: “The overheated rupee has robbed off 12-15% from the profit of garment exporters. For medium exporters accounting for turnovers less than Rs 20 crore, rupee rise is spelling a doom. The government should compensate exporters with the loss they are suffering due to rise in the rupee value which comes out to 12-15%. It should increase the drawback from 7% to 12% and handover at least 50% income-tax exemption on exports income. The government should further handover exemptions on excise duty, VAT and other taxes.” Director of Manohar Lal Kapoor and Sons, one of the leading exporters of chikan from Lucknow, Girish Kapoor adds that the scenario for chikan exporters is grim. “Our exports are likely to reduce by as much as 30-40% due to the rupee appreciation against the dollar. With no special package coming from the government for the small niche segment of traditional textile handicraft exporters we are facing a bleak future.” Concurs Puran Dhingra, owner of Patiala-based Dhingra Phulkari House exporting Phulkari garments, “We export to Malaysia, Spain, France, England and many places across Canada thanks to the NRI connection. The beauty of our products is creating a rise in demand from new countries like Russia but we don’t have the monies to think of growing our business. Unless the government supports us, we will find it tough to preserve our tradition.” According to Lucknow Chikan Handicrafts Manufacturers Association president Gopi Shyam Tandon about Rs 200 crore worth of chikan products are made annually, of these Rs 20 crore worth are exported annually. “Most of the chikan garments are exported to countries like England, France, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Australia, USA, Netherlands et al. But chikan exports are bound to fall drastically. Being a small segment of the overall exports from the country, the government is also not very responsive towards our problems and demands.” Chikan exports are also threatened by imitation embroidery work from China and Bangaldesh and the scenario looks even grimmer after the abolition of ‘quota system’ in China from 2008. “The central government should at least enhance the duty drawback to about 20% to give chikan exporters some breathing space for survival. Further the state government should announce refund of local taxes like service tax, Octroi etc so that we can continue to be in business,” adds Mr Kapoor.