R A Quadri
Deeply rooted in the socio-economic ethos of people of the state, the Kashmir crafts has the distinction of highest number of practicing crafts in the country. It has 32 practicing crafts out of which 8 crafts have shown excellent export potential.
Kashmir craft was concentrated in the shehr-e-khaas of Srinagar. However in 1979 realizing the potential of the craft, the department of handicrafts and handlooms opened around 600 schools in the state where these crafts were taught, which produced large number of trained manpower. The dropout rate in these schools has gone up thus producing fewer artisans consequently resulting in decline in production as well as exports. The stipend Rs 100 and Rs 200 for elementary and advanced training paid to the trainees has remained static for the last 27 years.
Government needs to take immediate steps to revive this age old industry which has great potential for employment generation and exports. These steps could be both short term and long term.
1. Government should increase the stipend of the trainees to attract more people to these crafts. This will provide much needed trained manpower to the industry.
2. Handicraft and Handloom sector falls in the unorganized private sector. We need to evolve institutions which will provide much needed design innovation, trained manpower, technical up-gradation and finance.
3. Institutions like Indian Institute of Carpet Technology and Craft Development Institute need to be strengthened so that crafts which have been brought under geographical indicators act are exploited commercially. We should aim to have the first craft university of the country.
4. The state needs to promote brand Kashmir internationally with the help of ministry of commerce.
5. Various projects with the Government of India like mega carpet cluster, announced by the union finance minister in his budget speech and replacement of 40000 carpet looms by modern ones as announced by the Prime Minister need to be expedited on fast track.
6. To arrest the decline in exports of handicrafts due to contraction in demand in traditional export markets like Europe, USA and Scandinavian countries, the state should participate aggressively in international and national exhibitions.
7. We also need to concentrate on reviving the languishing crafts of the state like kundan giri, silver philgari, khatam bandi, pinjra kari etc.
8. The state needs to evolve a policy of providing some incentive to handicrafts exporters by subsidizing airfreight of export cargo. As at present no incentive is being provided by the state to the exporters or to the whole handicraft and handloom sector except some interest subsidy on the working capital of artisans.
9. The state needs to evolve separate handicraft and handloom industrial policy.
10. The major threat to some of the crafts is the “machine made fakes”. The handicraft quality control act need to be revisited to safeguard the interests of handicrafts sector like it was protected in case of handmade copper utensils.
These measures would create a vibrant handicraft sector which will provide gainful employment to lakhs of people and will help the state’s economy. Announcing task forces and high level committees to look into these issues have proved futile until now.