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COVID-19 takes sheen off Assam’s silk in Bihu season

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the sheen off Assam’s silk industry ahead of the mid-April Rongali or Bohag Bihu, the festival that fuels much of its sales.

Facing uncertainties are 18,000 weavers and allied workers of Sualkuchi and 190 wholesale traders, the hub of the State’s silk industry 35 km west of Guwahati. The loom owners are close to stopping production, staring at a “long recovery period” if the pandemic-induced situation continues for a month or more.

“We could have absorbed the impact had it been the lean season from May to September. But the virus struck during the peak sale season between the (mid-January) Bhogali Bihu and Bohag Bihu,” said Nihar Ranjan Kalita, secretary of Sualkuchi Tat Silpa Unnanyan Samiti.

Unique varieties

The average annual turnover bandwidth of Assam’s silk industry comprising three unique varieties — the golden Muga, the white Paat and the warm Eri — is ₹80 crore. The Bihu season accounts for ₹30 crore.

“Sales generally, pick up from October and peak in April. The protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in December and January braked the momentum, and now this,” Dr. Kalita said.

The State’s Handloom, Textiles and Sericulture Minister Ranjit Dutta said the combined silk production in Assam has increased since the 2011-12 fiscal to touch 2,552.75 metric tonnes during 2015-16. But the local production is inadequate, forcing weavers to buy yarns from China.

China stopped the export a month ago because of COVID-19. This resulted in yarn dealers increasing existing stock prices by 40%, impacting the prices of the finished products.

“Marriages have been put off along with Bihu celebrations. There are no buyers even at discounted prices. Business is down by 70-75% and I don’t know how I can pay the 20 weavers I employ,” said Meghali Das, who runs a silk outlet in Guwahati.

Relief needed

Silk weavers and traders’ bodies said the government might have to provide fiscal relief for bailing them out if the situation does not improve soon. Officials said the impact of the pandemic on the business would be assessed.

The gloom has also enveloped musicians and others associated with Bihu. “People’s health is of utmost importance at this time, so representatives of 26 Bihu committees in Guwahati decided to cancel all cultural programmes to avoid mass gatherings,” Bihu organiser Kailash Sarma said.

Nooruddin Ahmed, an art director, said the issue was bigger than business or entertainment. “It hurts, but keeping the virus away will help us live for festivals and programmes later,” he added.

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2022 9:24:43 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/covid-19-takes-sheen-off-assams-silk-in-bihu-season/article31147289.ece