‘Raising GST will spell doom for us’: Pochampally, Gadwal weavers distraught

The prices of the famous Gadwal and Pochampally handlooms will increase with the rise in GST — and that means the weavers who make your favourite sarees will lose their livelihood.
A busy weaver on loom
A busy weaver on loom
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"The proposed raise of Goods Services Tax (GST) from the existing 5% to 12% would worsen the situation of handloom weavers and the industry, which is already hit by the COVID-19 pandemic," says Srihari M, a handloom weaver from Pochampally town in Telangana, known for production of Ikat silk sarees. Srihari's family is one among 4000 in Pochampally area in erstwhile Nalgonda district which are dependent on the handloom weaving industry directly and indirectly. The handloom artisans of Pochampally aka Silk City of India are now fearing the consequences of the Union government’s decision to revise the GST on textiles and handlooms from January 1, 2022.

Srihari who is the former president of the Pochampally Weavers Association, says that handloom traders would be forced to raise the price of sarees which may lead to a decline in sales, resulting in loss of employment to weavers. "Owing to COVID-19, the sales of handloom products have already fallen; the prices of colours and silk, cotton threads and other material have already soared due to market conditions and existing GST. This raise will spell doom for the livelihood of weavers,” he says. 

The Pochampally handloom sector hosts thousands of families hailing from esrtwhile Rangareddy, Nalgonda and Warangal districts by providing employment to them as weavers. Telangana is one of the important states that have a handloom industry; over 40,000 handloom weavers produce world class products here. Most of these weavers hail from the Padmashaali community — categorised as a Backward Class (BC) — and from other landless weaker sections.

Tirumala Munishwar, another weaver from Gadwal town which is well-known for its quality fabrics, says, "Prior to COVID-19 pandemic, my wife and I together used to make Rs 25,000 in 45-50 days. Now, the situation is gloomy owing to COVID-19. Traders are already not giving so many orders and there is a delay in the payments. If the GST is raised to 12%, the sales will fall and will affect us more."

Weaver busy weaving a cotton saree 

Several weavers TNM spoke to say that many traders are not clearing the pending bills citing low sales. Munishwar says, "This is the time our industry, especially weavers, should get some support from the government. Instead, if the new scale of GST is imposed, many weavers will be on the streets with no alternative livelihood."

According to the weavers welfare association activists, there have been as many 70 deaths by suicide of weavers ever since the pandemic broke, as it led to loss of employement. Dasu Suresh, National Weavers United Joint Action Chairman Joint Action Committee (JAC), says there used to be Rs 1,000-1,200 crore of handloom business prior to the pandemic. “The pandemic has caused a loss of at least Rs 1,500 crore, disturbing the chain of trade. Weavers have pushed into debt in order to make ends meet,” he explains. 

According to Dasu, the handloom works are produced in the three line mode, where a trader gives bulk orders/contracts to Master weavers, who in return give orders to weavers who produce the material. The external factors such as taxes, price of the material, and market conditions, will impact the demand for the production which generates work/employment for the weavers. 

The state is said to have 18,000 recognised looms and 5,000 unrecognised looms. At each loom, at least two-three weavers work. “The state and Union government are playing politics with the livelihood of the weavers. While the state is blaming the Union government for the rise in GST, the Union government in the GST council claimed that they’ve raised the GST because of pressure from state governments including Telangana,” he says. 

Dasu says that the state government should write a letter to the Union, stating that they do not want their GST share, if at all they’re concerned about the weavers, and pressurise the Union government to waive the GST completely. 

Sanjeev M from Marriguda of Nalgonda says that the government should take measures to exempt handlooms from GST. "In my village alone there are around 60 families which are dependent on the handloom sector. If the taxes are continuously increased on handloom products, even the small demand we have now will vanish as traders have to increase their costs.”

Cotton threads after applying the color

Telangana handloom fabrics from Sircilla-Karimnagar, Jogulamba Gadwal, Pochampally are known for giving the best quality material for domestic and international markets, but weavers feel that additional burdens on the industry would force many to leave the profession. 

Srinivas Arya, a well known saree trader from Gadwal says, "Prices of the other production materials such as colours, chemicals, zari (border), silk, cotton have also shot up and the proposed GST revision would further trigger hikes in saree prices; this is not viable for traders, weavers, as well as consumers. The Union government should not consider this as a business but as a unique art of the people and should withdraw the proposal to raise the GST."

Telangana state minister for Industries and Commerce K T Rama Rao (KTR) has also demanded that the Union government withdraw the plans to raise GST. Last week, he wrote a letter to the Union Minister for Textiles Piyush Goyal. He said that the decision will be a death blow. Responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's tweet on National Handloom Day about strengthening “Vocal4Handmade” KTR said that Union government's actions are contradicting this idea.

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