Relief for the weavers

Print edition : April 28, 2001

Assistance reaches the poverty-stricken and debt-ridden traditional weavers of Andhra Pradesh from governmental and other sources. However, what they really need is a comprehensive long-term plan for the revival of the industry.

T. LAKSHMIPATHI in Hyderabad K.M. DAYASHANKAR in Sircilla

THE plight of traditional weavers in some pockets of Andhra Pradesh who, afflicted by unemployment, loss of livelihood and debt, have increasingly faced death by suicide or starvation, has finally attracted some attention from the authorities and society (Frontline, April 27). However, the question is whether it is too little and has come too late.

Indeed, observers point out that what is striking about the State government's response to the crisis at this point is its inability, or rather refusal, to address the basic problems facing the industry. It is concentrating on ad hoc measures to provide temporary relief to the weavers, instead of taking steps to provide them raw materials at subsidised rates and ensure a reliable market for their products. Only long-term measures can offer a permanent solution to the plight of the weavers.

The traditional weavers of Andhra Pradesh can get real relief only if basic problems facing the industry are addressed by the government.-K. RAMESH BABU

A four-member Cabinet committee appointed by the State government had suggested distribution of rice, ration cards and old-age pension as immediate relief. Over 6,000 kg of rice at the rate of 10 kg to each affected weavers' family has been distributed. About 1,100 white ration cards have been issued to enable the families to draw rice at subsidised rates. Old-age pension, at the rate of Rs.75 a month, is being disbursed to 25,000 weavers.

The heirs of 40 weavers who committed suicide have been given Rs.10,000 each from the National Family Benefit Scheme. Health camps and counselling centres have been organised to help the weavers. Meanwhile, the Central government has announced a package of Rs.30 crores for the weavers. This followed a meeting a delegation of Members of Parliament and Ministers from the State had with the Prime Minister. The Centre also decided to send the Union Minister of State for Textiles, Dhananjay Kumar, to study the situation.

The plight of handloom weavers is attributed mainly to the non-receipt of payment for cloth they sold to the Andhra Pradesh Handloom Weavers Cooperative Society (APCO). The State government has now released Rs.25 crores to APCO, to be disbursed among the 342 primary handloom weavers societies. The Social Welfare and Tribal Welfare departments have resumed purchase of cloth from APCO; they have placed orders worth Rs.2.50 crores and Rs.5.32 crores respectively. The Andhra Pradesh State Transport Corporation is expected to place an order for uniform cloth with APCO.

The handloom cloth that has accumulated with APCO is valued at Rs.52 crores. In a bid to enable APCO offload stocks, the government has announced a 30 per cent rebate on the price of cloth sold through APCO.

Handlooms Minister Padala Bhumanna, who faced the wrath of weavers when he visited the affected districts, said that there were no plans to wind up APCO. He blamed the APCO management for the recurring losses, and promised governmental help to revamp the society. Downsizing is one of the measures proposed. Already 500 APCO employees have opted for voluntary retirement. A powerloom development cell has been opened in the office of the Director of Handloom and Textiles in Hyderabad.

The government plans a special package for Sircilla, which has borne the brunt of the crisis. An apparel design centre has been opened there to train women in garment manufacturing. The centre now trains 20 women. Women are also trained in embroidery and computer skills. About 30,000 shop-floor workers will be trained for gainful employment in the Apparel Export Park at Gundlapochampally in Medchal mandal of Rangareddy district. About 120 powerloom weavers from Sircilla have already opted for the training.

IN Sircilla, where 40 weavers have committed suicide since January, the district administration has begun the relief and rehabilitation work. Following reports of starvation deaths, the administration has distributed over 150 tonnes of rice to the weavers. It has also been decided to provide ration cards to about 2,984 families. About 1,100 families have already received them.

Pensions have been provided to 16 women who have lost their husbands, and old-age pensions to 908 persons. About 2,000 persons are being trained in trades such as garment making, tailoring, television and radio repairing and motor re-winding. Training in computer data entry operations and driving of heavy and medium vehicles is also being imparted.

Rukavva, wife of Bhumaiah who committed suicide a year ago, said that officials were training her son in tailoring and her daughter in readymade garment making. She said that earlier she was concerned about her children's future but now she was confident that they would be able to stand on their own feet.

The district's medical and health officers have deployed 10 teams to treat weavers who suffer from ailments. On April 12 in Sircilla the sub-divisional police launched a counselling and medical programme for weavers by constituting the Netha Karimka Samkshema Samithi (powerloom weavers welfare society). The members of the Samithi include Sircilla's Deputy Superintendent of Police, chairman and councillors of the municipality, representatives of non-governmental organisations and doctors.

About 20 doctors and 60 registered medical practitioners, all members of the Samithi, volunteered to offer the weavers round-the-clock treatment and medicines at their clinics free of cost. The Samithi members identified over 1,000 families that required free medical assistance and provided them treatment.

However, despite the setback suffered by the powerloom industry in Sircilla following the introduction of jet looms in the neighbouring States, only 347 of its 30,454 weavers were willing to shift to other vocations. Only 628 women weavers volunteered to leave Sircilla if they were provided with employment outside the town in other trades.

A social status survey conducted by the revenue authorities among the weaving community in Sircilla and five adjoining villages revealed that of the total 8,152 weavers interviewed, in the case of more than 50 per cent, the heads of families consumed liquor regularly. The remaining heads of families drank occasionally. The survey also found out that about 3,768 families were in debt, of which 2,640 had taken loans from private persons at exorbitant interest rates.

Prohibition and Excise Department personnel have launched a special drive against adulterated toddy and illicitly distilled liquor in the Sircilla region. Following raids, the authorities suspended the licences of 12 toddy shops that supplied spurious toddy.

Although the plight of weavers was highlighted on March 7 when the total number of suicides reached 26, the State government responded only after the toll reached 32 with the death of four members of a family on April 2. Since then eight more weavers have committed suicide.

Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ch Vidayasagar Rao, who represents the Karimnagar Lok Sabha constituency which includes Sircilla, visited Sircilla on March 17 and announced an ex gratia payment of Rs.5,000 each to 20 families from the charitable trust set up in the name of his mother. State Minister for Tourism E. Peddi Reddy, Minister for Handlooms and Textiles Padala Bhumanna and Minister for Technical Education Alapati Rajendra Prasad visited Sircilla and distributed over old-age pensions.

Leaders of several political parties such as the Congress(I), the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Telugu Desam Party (NTR) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Janashakthi also visited the town. An Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) study team led by All India Congress Committee (AICC) member D. Vittal, which visited Sircilla, demanded the resignation of Bhumanna. The APCC team alleged that the Minister had turned a blind eye to the plight of the weavers. The APCC also announced an ex gratia payment of Rs.1 lakh to the kin of weavers who had committed suicide. APCC president M. Satyanarayana Rao, who visited Sircilla along with former Union Minister for Textiles G. Venkata Swamy on April 8, threatened to launch an agitation demanding the rehabilitation of the weavers. They alleged that anti-weaver policies of both the Central and State governments had forced the weavers to commit suicide.

A BJP delegation led by the party's Weavers Cell convener Vannala Sriramulu said that the power tariff hike and the increase in the prices of yarn and dyes were responsible for the plight of the weavers. They demanded power supply to weavers at a subsidised rate and the abolition of the sales tax of 4 per cent on yarn.

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