Infiltration Kills Kashmir Handicraft Sector

26 May 2008

Srinagar: The Government of India figures that J&K state has exported handicraft items worth Rs 1500 crores impresses none, with traders, artisans and the business leaders of Kashmir accusing government of confusing the issue by sexing up figures. “Now handicrafts items are being produced in Amritsar and sold outside country under Kashmir label. It is only exporters who thrive on the trade which has proved fatal for Kashmiri artisans in particular and Kashmir in general,” said Abdul Majid, an artisan. Majid argues that the government over the years has failed to check the “infiltration into the handicrafts sector” by other states, which camouflage their products as “Kashmiri products” and sell them in the market. Consequently, the state is rapidly losing its skilled manpower. In seventies there were over 15 lakh artisans spread all over Kashmir with city people taking it (handicrafts) as primary source of income and villagers as secondary. But now things are different. Sources said in 2003 when the department of Handicrafts conducted a special census, it found 7 lakh artisans in the state. The officials of the department say presently the number of artisans registered with it is just 3.5 lakh. The artisans said no concrete steps were being taken up by the state government especially after 1989 to increase productivity in this sector particularly in carpet weaving, shawls, woodcarvings and papier mashie. “The government is falsely rejoicing over the annual export figures of about 1500 crores provided by union ministry of commerce when it knew that most of these exports included items produced by other states. In fact the production in all handicraft segments has reduced from previous figures if the inflation was taken into account,” the artisans said. The decrease in employment and production in the handicraft sector is attributed to non-serious and half-hearted government policies, which had failed to support and encourage artisans in order to make them comfortable. “The artisans who crafted the articles through involvement of their skill and great sense did not even get sufficient money for sustenance not to talk of getting optimum benefit from the job.” The Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir (FCIK) President Shakeel Qalander says substantial number of skilled craftsmen and artisans have shifted to other jobs and remaining were keen to follow their path despite the government claims that all is well. He said after 1947 successive state governments launched vigorous campaign establishing handicraft training centers across the state leading to increase in the number of artisans touching over 15 lakh in seventies. Shakeel said though the concerned department claimed that the present employment absorption in handicraft sector was over 3 lakhs, the records maintained by them showed the number is around 2 lakh. He held the state government responsible for failure in promotion of handicraft sector in order to use it as one of the vibrant economic vehicles for the overall development in the state. He said that all handicraft units in the state were in unorganized sector scattered through the length and breadth of the state. “It was unfortunate that no measures were taken to encourage manufacturing of handicraft items in an organized way particularly with cluster approach having common facility centers in the parks specially established for each line of activity,” he said. Recently artisans held a meeting at FCIK headquarters to chalk out future strategy. In the meeting the FCIK informed the meeting that although the state industrial policy of 2004 envisaged for development of handicraft sector as a thrust area, the methodology for the same had not been framed and finalized till date even after the elapse of more than four years now resulting in non-availability of incentives to handicraft units. “It was in view of the pathetic conditions of artisans and small handicraft units that the FCIK had decided to open a special cell for them which would assess the causes for unrest among them and recommend measures and policies to be taken up at all levels,” the artisans were informed in the meeting. The cell would also deal with the basic issues which confronted the growth and promotion of this sector in order to pave way for increased productivity, design innovations, quality control, cost efficiency, brand promotion and marketing. The FCIK would utilize its network in all districts of the valley to organize handicraft units in each district in order to work out strategies for their relocation in clusters, the president FCIK said adding that his organization would seek support from state government in demanding funds equivalent to 5% of foreign exchange earned through export of Kashmiri handicrafts for establishing of such clusters.