National

Broken threads

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Bhiwandi’s famed power looms are grinding to a halt

On the night of November 17, 10 lakh power looms fell silent at Bhiwandi. More than 95% of the looms in the Mumbai suburb once known as the Manchester of India remained shut over the next 10 days. The loom owners’ association organised the protest against the steep electricity bills threatening the loom industry, which was slowly recovering after demonetisation.

Farhid Ansari, 32, who took over the family business after his father’s death, says, “We had 32 looms in our workshop; 16 of them were shut after demonetisation and all are shut for the past three months.”

As an alternative means of living, Farhid, along with a partner, started a small electric fan repair shop. “My family would have landed in the streets if we had only the looms to depend on,” he says.

Even today, Bhiwandi, a melting pot of communities, has the highest number of power looms in India. But the industry has hit a bad patch, almost a point of no return. The loom owners are finding it difficult even to recover their investment, let alone make a profit.

Abdul Siddique, president of the owners’ association, says: “This is the worst situation I have ever seen for the power loom industry. We are getting no help from the government.”

The power tariff in Maharashtra is ₹1,000 more a loom than it is in other States. The tariff was revised from September 1 — from ₹3.50 a unit to ₹5. Sometimes, the bills have no bearing on the consumption. Mom Razi Ahmed says that when he used 8,653 units of power to run his looms, he was charged ₹27,620. But when he used 8,529 units, the bill came to ₹38,940.

For the loom owners whose businesses ran on daily cash transactions, demonetisation dealt a blow. Two years down the line, the increase in power tariff has ensured that it is only a matter of time before the looms shut down. Today, more that 60% of the looms have fallen silent. Unable to pay the electricity bills at a time when cloth sales are low, most loom owners are selling the looms as scrap. The labourers from West Bengal, Bihar andPunjab are going back home.

The textile business was at its peak in the 1980s and 1990s. And before that, the place had emerged as an important trading centre by virtue of having its own port. The decline started some 12 to 15 years ago, with the rise of Surat as India's major textile hub. With outdated machines, the power loom owners from Bhiwandi could not effectively compete.

Text and images by Emmanual Karbhari.

(Emmanual Karbhari is a freelance photographer based in Mumbai)

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