On the evening of 6th July 2016 the social and mainstream media was abuzz with the news and comments on the so-called ‘demotion’ of Smriti Irani from the powerful HRD Ministry to MoT. At the same time the entire Indian textile industry was rejoicing on getting a young, smart, effective and aggressive minister, after many years. Apparel Online too carried a strong editorial in acknowledgment of what her appointment could mean for the industry. Contrary to expectation, Irani moved into a shell and distanced herself from the media; refusing even to meet few ‘focused media’ wanting to talk to her when she took control of MoT. The industry was confused…! Will she take the ‘change’ as a ‘challenge’ or just as a ‘duty’ to be done mechanically?

The expectations and enthusiasm levels of industry were already high as just two weeks prior, the first ever ‘Special Package’ of Rs. 6,000 crore was announced for the apparel sector. Smriti Irani seemed the right person to take the initiative forward. All association heads rushed to meet her and present their agendas with the hope of emphasising on the genuineness of their needs/demands. But soon it became clear that like past ministers, she is here to carry forward PM Modi’s agenda of appeasing the handloom, weavers and artisans segment. On joining office, her statement set the tempo of the following days…, “It is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream to boost the textile industry.”

Sadly, textiles get limited to handloom, weavers and artisans, though some good work has been done… An initiative “Pehchan” was launched to register and provide identity cards to handicraft artisans under a national database. Already 2,24,742 applications have been collected through awareness camps. The level of insurance cover for handloom weavers in case of accidental death has been increased to Rs. 4 lakh from Rs. 1.5 lakh. There are some other such steps, but nothing which is radically different or strong enough to metamorphose this segment or improve the life of the artisans/weavers in remote parts of the country.

The expectation is that the new minister is an observant, decisive person with realistic approach, so she is bound to understand and accept that the apparel industry is the driver of growth for the entire textile industry and the prime focus will shift from handloom to apparel. Smriti Irani has been busy touring the country, meeting lots of people and participating in many national, international events and industry discussions, commenting in her signature style on core issues. During an event in Jaipur, she said, “I have hardly seen any segment of the industry that has come forward with constructive suggestions except for jute. We are ready to discuss issues and find a solution.” Indeed on suggestions from the jute industry, she convened an emergency meeting to end illegal import of jute products from Bangladesh and Nepal and ordered that fortnightly reports will be sent electronically to Jute Commissioner@CBEC_India to monitor the flow and end-use of jute imports.

This is the Smriti Irani that the industry is looking for and many believe that though she is not yet declaring any directions for the apparel industry…, the new minister needs to look at the value chain with a new perspective and not get bogged down with old directions. Also she must be updated by the right type of people that small incentives are good for sustenance but if we want the industry to really grow in leaps and bounds then India has to bring out a comprehensive textile policy which is not governed by the strongest lobby in cotton, man-made fibre or only weavers and also seek trade agreements with core countries, losing competitiveness by 19 to 20 per cent just because of import duties is too big a gap to fill with small incentives.

2017 may see some important steps that will really propel the industry forward. The recent Cabinet approval of the inclusion of the made-ups segment in the ‘Special Package’ announced earlier is a clear indication that the ministry is listening… the demand from the made-ups segment has been getting stronger and though they have no proper representative body or lobby, the ministry without even giving an inkling of what was coming has effectively silenced detractors alleging step-motherly treatment to the home furnishing industry. Unlike past ministers, Smriti Irani continuously remains in the limelight for her various viral twitter campaigns to promote handlooms and more recently her efforts to open bank accounts for weavers and garment workers.

In these 6 months that she has been with the MoT, the only strong focus that has emerged for the textile industry is her acknowledgment that the industry is in need for capacity enhancement in production of textile machinery in the country, under the ‘Make in India’ campaign, but nothing concrete has come to the forefront on this issue too. Take the case of Bangladesh and Vietnam, they have no machinery industry and not even a strong spinning and weaving industry to support the garment industry, yet they came from behind and are now miles ahead… It cannot be about just ‘Make in India’ campaign, there is much more to it…

Just 6 months in any ministry is not much to give path-breaking results, and 2017 would be really interesting as well as challenging for MoT, as there is a push to present the long pending textile policy, which minister herself has declared as a hallmark. It will be out soon and worth to see how the team has addressed the concerns with regard to required coordination between/for complete supply chain growth of the textile industry.

Maryan Barbara
Maryan Barbara

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