Lucknow: Having been closed for nearly two months as a result of the lockdown imposed due to COVID-19, power loom units in Uttar Pradesh were permitted to begin functioning in shifts. Few power looms resumed work in Kanpur after getting the green light to operate, but even those looms are struggling to function due to the exodus of thousands of migrant workers, a lack of raw materials and due to low demand.
On Thursday, Rakesh Singh, Kanpur’s District Magistrate, announced that all power looms and textile processing units located outside the city could operate with 50% staff.
Mohammad Ishaque, who runs 11 power looms in the Faithfulganj area of Kanpur, said the lockdown has broken the back of the weaving industry. The industry was already reeling under a crisis caused by demonetisation and GST, and will not be able to bear such an “onslaught", he said. Ishaque said that weavers have lost their source of income and are dying a slow death.
"Over 5,000 workers work in textile looms in Faithfulganj and Sujatganj. After the first phase of the lockdown, everyone left for their hometown. Local workers found other work as as they were on the verge of starvation. The period from the beginning of Ramzan till Eid is peak season for them and the weavers, workers, owners and traders from the weaving industry wait for this season every year. But this year, we could not sell our products due to the lockdown," he added.
Pointing out that the subsidy ended by the state government in January last year had increased the burden on weavers, Kamil, another power loom owner, said that the is industry regarded as the second-highest employment generator after agriculture, but by going ahead with the move, the government wants to harass poor weavers.
"Earlier, weavers from urban areas used to pay Rs 110 as electricity bill while weavers from rural areas used to pay Rs 86, but ever since the order to end power subsidy given to the weavers came about, we are receiving electricity bills of thousands of rupees per month, which has become difficult for the weavers to pay," he added, saying that after a lot of hard work, a weaver is able to earn only between Rs 150 and Rs 200 a day. “If we would have paid the electricity bills, we would have died of hunger because items have become costlier due to the lockdown,” he said.
Manpower crunch, no demand
Despite being permitted to begin operations, the lack of an adequate number of workers has been the biggest stumbling block for Kanpur’s weaving units. Workers claimed that there is no demand or job opportunities and that the business in bad shape due to the lockdown.
Getting adequate manpower in order to ramp up production to meet demand is one of the major challenges the textile industry is faced with, said Jamal Ahmad, President of Kanpur Power Loom Association.
He said that aside from the labour crisis, the textile industry is also dealing with low demand and a shortage in the supply of raw materials.
“The problem is not just that labourers have left for their villages, but that they are unlikely to come back for at least three months. So, we are going to continue to face this labour crisis for the better part of this year,” said Jamal.
Additionally, about 3,000 labourers working on power looms will remain unemployed for the next three months, Jamal added, saying that they had requested the government to provide employment to the weavers as soon as possible. “The owners and weavers should be compensated so that they can restart their looms. Else, this entire industry will be destroyed,” he added.