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Business News/ News / India/  The toy story of Karanataka’s Channapatna: Covid pushes it to its last act
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The toy story of Karanataka’s Channapatna: Covid pushes it to its last act

As business shrank, the number of traditional artisans in Channapatna declined from around 3,500 in the late 1990s to just around 1,500 earlier this year
  • The plight of smaller toy-manufacturing units that operate as feeders to large distributors and retailers is worse
  • A mere representation of an artisan making wooden toysPremium
    A mere representation of an artisan making wooden toys

    BENGALURU:Around this time last year, toymaker Maya Organic had an export order to supply around 20,000 units of its Channapatna wooden toys.

    The shipments normally go out by the first week of September to European nations and in other countries where demand is high around Christmas and New Year for the lacquered and hand-crafted wooden products from Karnataka’s famous ‘toy town’ that lies between Bengaluru and Mysuru.

    Not so this year, as Karnataka’s toy story appears to slide into tragedy.

    “We have sent feelers to all our buyers, but there is no response so far," said Subba Rao, a senior sales and marketing official at Maya Organic.

    Supported only by a fragment of online sales, the company has kept its workers away from factory floors and raised donations to fund their basic expenses.

    The plight of smaller toy-manufacturing units that operate as feeders to large distributors and retailers is worse.

    Samiullah (who goes by only one name), a 40-year-old toymaker, said some workers from his factory, which has shut down for the time being, have taken up temporary work as mechanics in garages and welding shops, and as agriculture labourers.

    Natraj.C, who used to have a turnover of around Rs8,000 per day, now refuses to take calls from unknown numbers, fearing they could be from debt collectors.

    Channapatna’s toy industry, lining the narrow lanes of the small town, has faced multiple hardships in the past, from cheaper Chinese replicas of the trademark wooden figurines to the Karnataka government’s enthusiasm for a new and bigger toy cluster in Koppala. As business shrank, the number of traditional artisans in Channapatna declined from around 3,500 in the late 1990s to just around 1,500 earlier this year. The state’s toy industry is valued at around $160 million.

    On Sunday, chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa tweeted that the proposed toy cluster in Koppala has the potential to create 40,000 jobs and attract over 5,000 crore in investments.

    “In line with PM @narendramodi’s vision of #VocalForLocal & boosting toy manufacturing, Koppala will have India’s first toy manufacturing cluster. With the ecosystem to support toy cluster in place, this 400 acres SEZ will have top-class infrastructure and generate 40,000 jobs in five years," Yediyurappa said on Twitter.

    This approach has left a significant chunk of toymakers of Channapatna at the mercy of exploitative local distributors and large retailers who are often accused of short-changing the smaller business units.

    “A toy I made was sold for 558 in Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu) but the distributor bought it for just 35," Natraj said.

    Poor support from the state government and a lack of coordination between stakeholders contributed to the decline of the industry in Channapatna over the years

    Left to fend for themselves, the toymakers face a challenge that threatens to wipe out the smaller players. Their niche skills put these artisans at a disadvantage, unable to attract relief from the government to help mitigate the impact of the covid-led lockdown. “Construction workers, carpenters, barbers...everyone got some financial relief, but we got nothing," Samiullah said.

    Similarly, toymakers in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh have been absorbed by furniture businesses.

    A senior Karnataka government official acknowledged toymakers have been “pretty much left to fend for themselves", even though authorities have drawn up grand plans to connect them to global value chains.

    Though government officials say that the new toy cluster will focus on a different segment, toymakers in Channapatna fear further erosion of already dwindling sales since the early 1990's.

    Shivaprasad, a toy retailer on the busy Bengaluru-Mysuru highway, said his sales barely hit 10,000 a month from around 25,000 just before the pandemic, forcing him to depend on agriculture to support his family.

    The triple impact of demonetisation, goods and services tax (GST) implementation and now covid-19 have had a crippling impact on the small and medium industry.

    Sreekala Kadidal, independent director at Channapatna Crafts Park, said toys that fell under the 5.5% bracket in the erstwhile value-added tax regime now attract 12% GST.

    “The artisans are also not aware of international trends," said Kadidal, adding that the entire toy industry in Channapatna is valued at around Rs6-10 crore.

    Indian toy exports were in the range of Rs245 crore in 1996-97 and imports at Rs52.88 crore, according to data from a ministry of commerce and industry-led report. The trend reversed from 2006-07 , when imports exceeded exports.

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    Published: 30 Aug 2020, 06:03 PM IST
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