Fluctuatving From global recession to the locally official apathy, the threat is looming large over the ailing Carpet Industry of Kashmir, Mir Farhat writes why government is not able to bail out this culturally rich trade brought to us by Mir Syed Ali Hamdani which is feeding thousands of families since centuries.
Fayaz Ahmad Mir, 40, of Noorbagh locality in Srinagar, is one of the lakhs of hands that weave the world famous Kashmir carpets.
Decades into carpet weaving, Ahmad, who lives in a two-storey modest house that he has inherited from his parents, is not contended with his earning.
“It is difficult for us to make our ends meet. I earn between Rs 100- 80 a day, which is very less,” dejected Mir says.
He sustains a family of seven members by the earnings of the weaving. His three children study in schools. “Often I don’t have money to pay for their fee,” he says, indicating his economic position after years of weaving.
Introduced in the Valley by a Muslim saint Mir Syed Ali Hamadani, who had arrived here in 1384 A.D from Persia and popularized handicrafts, carpet weaving had become a foremost employment then.
Owing to long winters and less livelihood avenues in Kashmir, the industry, decades ago, found favourable workforce here as people keep confined to their homes during the six months long cold season.
20 years ago, every village in Kashmir had artisans. Now,they have found other means of livelihood as carpet weaving fetched them low earning.
Despite less income why is Mir still into carpet making? “Since carpet weaving provides full year labour, it is a good option than other manual labours,” Mir says. In winters, other labours are idle as snow and cold keeps people indoors.
“It needs robust marketing and export. Government can do that only and promote the trade in international markets which will fetch more customers and hence more work for us,” he says.
The industry, once a multi-crore trade, has seen a slump from the last decade, stakeholders say.
From recession in 2008 to wars in West Asia and economic slowdown in Europe and low quality standard of the carpets, the industry has been hit badly.
From Rs 20.80 crore exports in 1980-81 to Rs 369.81 crore in 2016-17, the industry has seen fluctuating annual revenue for the traders.
In 2015-16 the export has been between Rs 293.29 crore to Rs 369.81 crore in 2016-17.
The traders say that the Goods and Services Tax regime imposed across India in 2017 has pushed the industry “on the edge”.
Sheikh Ashiq, a famous carpet exporter of the state and former president KCCI, who has been into the carpet trade since decades, says Kashmiri carpets are high-end products.
“Well-off and rich people can afford to buy them. But due to global economic situation and war in West Asia, we find less buyers now,” he says, adding “the exports too have decreased approximately from 15 to 50 per cent.”
The carpets sell in the markets of Europe, West Asia, Australia and UK.
Slump in carpet market hits thousands of people associated with a single export house chain.
Ashiq’s export trading company, Ferozson Exports Pvt Ltd, which trades carpets in 29 countries across the world, has nearly 10,000 people including business associates and artisans linked to its big employment chain
Sheikah Ashiq says that when one export house is affected by market decline, it impacts the employment of 10,0000 people directly and indirectly.
In the last four years, his export has declined from a peak of Rs 18-20 crore to 3-4 crore annually, he says, adding the exporters too have decreased from 55 to 10 per cent.
Nearly 3.5 lakh artisans, backbone of the trade, in Kashmir valley are involved in the carpet making.
Ashiq says that in Bandipora, Budgam, Baramulla, Pulwama and Anantnag districts, carpet artisans are in high numbers.But, he says, over the years the number of artisans has decreased as Kashmiri carpets are selling less in the global market.
He says that the GST has hit the trade as nearly 1200 retail outlets across India are on the verge of closure.
At present, traders have to pay 12 % GST and their consistent demand is to make it GST free trade though Government has promised us to reduce it to 5 per cent yet no order has been issued,” Sheikh Ashiq says.
Hilal Ahmad, a young manufacturer says that they are demanding waiving off artisan credit card. “The chief minister (Mehbooba Mufti) has directed (in the Conclave) the finance minister too look into the demand,” says Hilal, hoping that the decisions is taken sooner.
Old designs, low quality silk
Many attribute the old practice of designs by artisans and low quality silk among the reasons for decline.
Designs like Hamdan, Goum, Cholekashna, Anarikashan, Mehraj, Sabzkashan, Seena and the size of carpets-Six by nine, eight by eleven, nine by twelve, four by six, three by five- are being carried forward since ages.
An exporter, who did not want to be named, points out carpets woven out of low-quality silk and dyes are sold as Kashmiri carpets.
“As stakeholders, we have to chip in, discourage these fake traders and carpets marketed as original Kashmiri carpets,” he says.
He recalls how customers would earlier buy whatever was available at the showrooms because of the quality and uniqueness of the products on display. “But now with artisans resisting innovation, this famous trade is losing its race with the markets.”
Admitting that the exporters and manufacturers have to share the responsibility of the decline, Sheikh Ashiq who is also COA member of Carpet Export Promotional Council (CEPC) from Jammu and Kashmir says that they have not modernized the products.
He said they need to improve upon designs and bring into modern designs, fabrics in the industry as machine-made carpets, which brought variety of designs to low-priced carpets, have taken over the space in the market.
Director Industries, Kashmir, Bilal Ahmad says buyers of Kashmiri carpets are world-wide but the quality had declined.
“The international market has declined because manufacturers have supplied low quality silk to the artisans. The knotting practice is decades-old, modern dyes are not used, color coding and geometrical accuracy is not maintained,” the director says.
“If we maintain the standard in carpets, buyers will rush from them,” he says.
However, artisans Mir says are maintaining standard quality of the carpets by using original silk and designs.
“But some dishonest manufacturers into the trade supply fake silk and dyes to the artisans which ends up eating into the industry as a whole,” he says.
On its part, the government says it has already taken necessary initiatives as far as technological part is concerned by establishing the Indian Institute of Carpet Technology (IICT) in Srinagar which brought innovation in Human Resource Development (HRD), Design Creation and Development (DCD), Research and Development (R&D) and Technical Services and Facilities to the Industry.
Among the initiatives, the institute has introduced design and development of modern carpet loom, establishment of Carpet Design Development Centre (CAD), technical research for introduction of locally available reeled mulberry silk for silk carpets, set up of raw material testing facility and development of knowledge resource through establishment of a library enriched with books/magazine of international standing.
The institute has started necessary research work justifying registration of Kashmiri Hand Knotted Silk Carpets under GI Act, standardization of the process of carpet washing and introduction of a one year Diploma in Carpet Technology and Entrepreneurship Development (DCTED) to develop technically trained entrepreneurs.
“Platforms and avenues need to be created in this regard. This will empower the artisans as they would have direct access to the ultimate buyers and customers. In addition to this, there is a need to provide soft loans to the artisans by integrating existing schemes of central and state governments so that a convergent approach is adopted to address the financial needs of the industry,” Zubair Ahmad, Director IICT, says.
However, much more is required to be done on other fronts like creating backward and forward linkages as the marketing holds the key.
Public Relations Officer, Handicrafts department, Riyaz Ahmad Kawoosa, said that the department is taking many measures to revive and keep afloat carpet industry.
“Modern mechanized carpets looms, costing Rs 60000, are provided free of cost to artisans to revive the industry and modernize the looms,” he says, adding that GoI has given approval for more 10000 looms.
“In every district of the state, we have given free looms to the artisans,” he says.
But the artisans say the looms are not as per their needs and choice.
“Free looms are 18 feet long which we cannot accommodate in our rooms. Since the rooms are of less length, such large looms cannot fit inside our houses,” Mir says, suggesting that government should instead provide interest-free loans to artisans so they could build their sheds and accommodate the looms.
Mushtaq Ahmad Shah, Assistant Director Finance Handicrafts, says the export from the carpets fluctuates as per the global market trends.
“This financial year figures of the two quarters show upward trend. Trade is at a better position this year with almost 52 % per cent increase,” Shah says.
As per official figures of the handicrafts department, the export of carpets shows an upward trend from 2009-15 has ranged between Rs 407.73 crores to 492.18 crores.
But in the last two years, the export has fluctuated from Rs 293.29 crores in 2015-16 to Rs 369.81 crores in 2016-17.
The exporters say the government should help in promoting the products at the world level through marketing.
Recently after government direction, the traders set up a committee on how to revive the business.
“We have made some recommendations how the industry can be revived,” he says, hoping that the government acts upon those recommendations once submitted to it.
Given the present situation of business, global position of carpet industry and the GST impact from the last four months, Sheikh Ashiq says the carpet traders have pitched for certain revival packages.
Stakeholders say that government intervention is paramount to save the industry from decline.
“The government should intervene and bail out business in the state as it has suffered immensely from the last some years,” He said.
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