Bhagalpur: Mounting odds—such as lack of credit, power shortage and rise in competition from other silk-producing centres in the country—have put silk manufacturers of Bihar’s Bhagalpur, India’s so-called Silk City, on the brink.
The Rs900 crore industry in the district produces two million metres of silk a year. It employs around 100,000 people—who are engaged in separating silk threads from cocoons and spinning the yarn to weave into cloth.
Dying craft: A worker arranging the silk yarn after it has been dyed. The Central Silk Board has forecast that the country’s silk exports will fall to Rs2,000 crore in 2009 after touching a record Rs3,500 crore in 2007. Utpal Bhaskar / Mint
“While silk manufacturing was once a booming business in Bhagalpur, it has lost to new centres such as Bangalore and Ahmedabad,” said a top district administration official who didn’t want to be identified.
“There are some drawbacks to the co-operative structure (in the industry) as subsidies given by the (Bihar) state government (to silk producing units in Bhagalpur) were siphoned off by some groups,” he alleged. He refused to elaborate.
Besides handlooms, a significant part of the silk production in the district is done on power looms that use generators. A chronic power shortage in the state has aggravated the problem—Bhagalpur receives power supply for barely two hours a day.
“Had there been electricity, our production would have increased by almost 50% and the cost of production would have come down by 25% as electricity supplied by the government is cheap. As we are dependent on generators, we have to shut them off regularly to let the machines cool off,” said Ijaz Ahmed, a co-owner at one of the silk manufacturing firms in Bhagalpur town.
Bhagalpur, which was on the ancient Silk Route that connected India with countries such as China in the east and Europe in the west, is famous for its tussar silk and supplies the product to export houses in Kolkata, Delhi and Varanasi that export it to West Asia, Europe, Japan and the US.
Bhagalpuri silk has made its presence felt on fashion ramps with designers such as Samant Chauhan making it the fabric of choice, showcasing it in Delhi’s Wills India Fashion Week and also the Singapore Fashion Week.
“Brokers who are making money out of this silk are not investing back in the Bhagalpuri silk industry. Instead, they are going to Bangalore and Ahmedabad. The industry is also unorganized with weavers taking credit from the market at 5% interest per month. With payments getting delayed they face a tough time. Some of this traditional craft form will certainly die,” said Chauhan.
“There were handsome margins earlier but not now. Now the exporter takes a sample from one supplier and gives it to different suppliers in an attempt to getbetter rates. Then there is the threat of large orders getting rejected on small quality issues...this is killing the industry,” added Ahmed.
India’s silk exports will continue to fall in 2009 to Rs2,000 crore after touching a record Rs3,500 crore in 2007, the Central Silk Board (CSB) has forecast.
CSB, a government agency that oversees the development of sericulture and the silk industry, has said exports are expected to maintain their decline after falling to Rs2,500 crore in 2008 on the back of a global economic slowdown.
“The year 2009 will spell the death knell for the Indian silk industry,” T.V. Maruthi, regional chairman of the Indian Silk Export Promotion Council (Mumbai), a trade promotion arm of the textile ministry, had earlier told Mint.
To add to the woes, the one-of-its-kind institute in Bhagalpur, the Bihar Institute of Silk and Textile, lies in utter neglect.
Teaching at this institute, which used to offer four-year bachelor of engineering degrees in silk and textile technology, has now been suspended.