MANITEX and the poor fate of weavers in Manipur A challenge of Ministry of Commerce & Industry

Mohendro Nandeibam
Manipur, perhaps, the last in the queue of national calculated engagements on all fronts of lasting economic significance being caught in the deep trap of prolonged policy paralysis and weak governance, has been trying to make a mark possibly by nourishing “dwarfs” of tottering handloom sector, when the whole world is increasingly marked by rising economies of scale and large scale production.          Of the three areas of core competence of Manipur such as handloom, cultural talents and sports, handloom is reeling under the shocks of imperfect markets. Both input and output markets fail to ensure operational efficiency and distributive justice. In fact, when market fails, government must come in. Right now, we fail to identify the grey areas of market failure and government failure.
Inspite of high sounding advertisements in exhibitions like MANITEX, handloom remains “dwarfs” in the mini world of their own creation. The extent of market interaction is extremely low and limited. The reported participation of 70 handloom houses in export as against  2354  of Assam is living testimony to the semi-stagnant performance.
The greatest dragnet is the prolonged dependence upon “local open market” to the extent of 90% of yarn (input) and 84% of sales (output). This disturbing development experience explains the visible fear of failure in global competition. Marketing infrastructures are extremely low. This is age-old issue ailing the sub-sector. Remember marketing is two-way traffic.
It is not a surprise that part-timers account for 34.48 % and that 23.16 % of production is meant for domestic consumption. Large scale commercialisation in the uncertain atmosphere marked by massive arrival of mill-made products is at the moment low. The floodgate of Act East Policy of India is going to be a tough challenge.  
The average production per weaver is as low as 5.92 meters only in Manipur as against 32.26 meters in Haryana, 11.97 meters in Bihar and 10.80 meters in Jharkhand. The issue is about low productivity in Manipur.
The wretched female weavers in the state cannot be free from the clutch of debt. 1097 borrow from friends and relatives at exorbitant rate of interest, 285 from moneylenders, 30 from commercial banks, 28 from government, 26 from master weavers and 27 from SHGs according to the Fourth All India Handloom Census, 2019-20.
Dwelling is extremely poor. 80.40 % live in kuchha house and 4.49 % in  semi-pucca where one cannot expect separate work-shed. Health hazard is nothing new.
What can we expect more from 79.55 % of handloom households whose daily income is only Rs. 166.77? Remember, female weavers accounting for 96.24% , overburdened by domestic duties, can hardly work for 182 days a year as against 306 in Chhattisgarh. The handloom sub-sector continues to be marked by          “mass-poverty” of the “working poor”. What about sustainability with their own financial strength?
Interestingly only two (2) handloom houses in Manipur are in a better position to earn income ranging from Rs. 50,000-1,00,000 a month as against 64 in Assam and 68 in Tamil Nadu. 88 handloom houses in Assam earn Rs. 1 lac and above a month.  
Of course, Manipur is one of the Top-5-states in the distribution of production of major fabrics. More participation of educated women may now be a new source of encouragement. Weavers with levels of primary and middle school account for 46.87% followed by 40.47 of high and higher secondary level. Encouraging enough, the sub-sector has 16,598 weavers with graduation and above. They need professional guidance. We need a policy of professional empowerment. We can think of developing the Family Enterprise of textiles.
The world is changing fast and is expected to change much faster. We have to equip the weavers with suitable skill and sufficient knowledge to respond to the components of change. In fact, innovation is key. Change is a great catalyst.
Change in production process, change in technology, change in connectivity, change in financial support, change in skill, change in the technique of thinking and apparatus of mind and above all, change in Institutional Parenting, are great warriors of achievement. Mere performance is not necessarily achievement. They are different. What Manipur needs is solid base of achievement.
As such, there is need for us to review the long term achievement of MANITEX. Inauguration by the Honourable Minister should be inauguration of new achievement. Can we think of industrialising Manipur with commendable contribution of textiles; while at the moment the contribution of manufacturing is 2.39 of Gross State Value Added (GSVA) only?
We have to prepare a blue print of road map with a New Vision based upon the hard hurdles of the past and potentials of the future. Can we think of Small Special Economic Zone (SSEZ) for textiles? 
There is a need for a critical assessment of the contribution of textile sector to the State Domestic Product of Manipur in terms of Production, Employment and Income. The application of SWOT- Theory can be taken advantage of.     
The writer was Professor of Economics, Manipur University and associated with number of organisations.