Puducherry’s handloom sector on its last leg

Hard times: The number of weavers in Puducherry is dwindling as most of them are switching professions due to a lack of steady income.   | Photo Credit: S_S_KUMAR

The famed handloom sector in Puducherry, a traditional occupation, is now on its last leg. Handloom weavers attached to primary cooperative societies are struggling to make ends meet due to a steep decline in production and non-payment of salaries for the last two and a half years.

After agriculture, the handloom sector was the largest employer in Puducherry with over 10,000 workers registered with the 13 primary weavers’ cooperative societies of Pontex, a cooperative department undertaking, which was started in 1957 to ensure continuous employment to weavers in the Union Territory by arranging a regular supply of yarn.

Government orders

The handloom fabric produced by weavers attached to the 13 primary weavers’ cooperative societies was supplied to Pontex for distribution under various government schemes of the Departments of Social Welfare and Adi Dravidar Welfare.

Similarly, the Pondicherry Cooperative Handloom Export Development Project, popularly known as Ponfab, was established in the 1980s to cater to the overseas markets. But all these major handloom weavers’ bodies are now in a serious financial crisis.

The cooperative weavers’ society at Lawspet has 55 looms. But only four of them are operating while the rest are idle because of yarn shortage. The situation is similar in all weavers’ cooperative societies in Puducherry.

According to S. Kribanandam, supervisor at the Lawspet primary weavers cooperative society, “There used to be 2,000 looms in Puducherry. But there are now only 600 in all cooperative societies and the numbers are dwindling. Only a few looms are functional and most of the weavers have shifted to other avenues of employment due to lack of income,” he said.

Mr. Kribanandam said the government’s decision to procure garments from outside for supply under government schemes instead of producing locally has destroyed all cooperative societies. Till then, weavers had stable income every month thanks to continuous orders from the various departments.

But all this went for a toss after the present government decided to stop procuring from cooperative societies in 2016. The government has also failed to settle payment to the tune of ₹7 crore to the primary cooperative societies for the stock supplied under the free dhoti and saree schemes, he added.

V. Paranthaman, a weaver said the government has been procuring handloom sarees from other States including Gujarat for its free dhoti and saree scheme. While the government has taken the stand that it has no funds to buy yarn, it has been procuring sarees made from power looms in other states at ₹125 and selling them at ₹200 here, leaving the native weavers in the lurch.

Private sector business

R. Rajangam, secretary, CPI (M), said the government was buying sarees and dhotis for 15 years. However, for the past five years, it started making bulk purchases from private textile showrooms instead of buying from cooperatives.

“The Social Welfare Department gradually reduced their purchase and in 2017 completely stopped buying from them. If the orders were given to these weavers and work streamlined, at least 5,000 families would benefit,” he added.

“There is no announcement of even the festival advance of ₹7,500 and our livelihood has become uncertain. While the Tamil Nadu government has been helping Co-optex improve its production quality, there has been no help from the Puducherry government,” said P. Sivakumar, a weaver.

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Printable version | Nov 20, 2020 3:55:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/puducherrys-handloom-sector-on-its-last-leg/article29752459.ece

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