"Beginning with just 10 power loom units, Manamedu witnessed a mushrooming of nearly 150 units in a very short span," says a handloom weaver in Tiruchi

Poor wages and a falling market seem to have prompted many traditional handloom weavers at Manamedu, Kodiyampalayam and Musiri to switch to power looms in the recent past. However, the nascent industry, which is grappling with the continuous power deficit, is finding it increasingly difficult to operate to full capacity.

“Over the past one year, nearly 150 families have migrated to Nambiyampalayam in Tirupur district to work as wage labourers at the power loom industries there,” says K.V. Ramalingam, who runs a small scale unit with four power looms at Manamedu. Among the first wave of traditional handloom weavers making the switch, Ramalingam recalls the industry was showing a lot of promise, until the state began facing its power crisis. “Beginning with just 10 power loom units, Manamedu witnessed a mushrooming of nearly 150 units in a very short span,” he says, adding “but no new unit has been set up hence.”

At the moment, the power loom units in the region are given 500 units of free power by the government, which according to Ramalingam is not enough to run even two looms.

“It would be greatly helpful if the government increased the free units to 750 units, which is required to run two looms,” he says. Hopeful of a better power situation in the future, Ramalingam is confident that most of the people who left for Tirupur would return to set up their own units. “Since the Nambiyampalayam power looms run on industrial power and are backed up by generators, they function almost round the clock, making it a very strenuous job,” adds R. Nityanandam, who works with his father at their unit at Manamedu.

Like most other rural industries, the power looms have fallen short of labour too: “These days all adults in the family have to work on the loom to make ends meet as outside labourers demand Rs.150 a day,” he says, adding “and we have to pay them whether or not there are power cuts.”

In a day, their unit makes up to four dhothies and one towel, depending on the number of power cuts. Their dhothies are sent to Thathaiyangarpet, from where they are sent to Kerala (their biggest market, especially during Onam festival). “The plain cloth weaved here is sent to Bombay, Delhi and even Japan to be used as shirting and suiting material,” says Nityanandam.

With the industry not doing as well as expected, many weavers are finding it difficult to pay back the loans they availed of to purchase the machinery, according to Ramalingam. “A government scheme that subsidises the rate of power loom machines and gives out lower-interest loans to poor power loom weavers, could encourage more people to stick it out,” he feels.