Wednesday, Jul 23, 2003
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By Radha Venkatesan
After its Rs. 40-saree caused a handloom sensation last year, the state-owned Cooptex planned to storm the textile market with low-cost polyester-blended cotton sarees and salwar suits for Pongal this year.
As many as 3.98 lakh polyster-to-cotton sarees, 1.22 lakh dhotis were procured from the weavers' societies from December onwards. Besides, the societies were asked to produce 8,000 sets of salwar-kameez, specially designed by the National Institute of Fashion Technology.
The stocks were ready for a festival launch, but the price tag was not ready.
The reason: the Government, which placed orders with the handloom societies for making the new varieties of cotton-to-polyester in December last, is yet to decide on the exact price at which the saree and salwar suits should be sold.
Six months and a few festivals later, the price is yet to be fixed, concedes a Handlooms department official.
While the actual cost of making the polyester-mixed sarees is about Rs. 112 a piece, Cooptex suggested that it could be sold for Rs. 55, with the remaining amount coming as subsidy from the Government. For salwars, the cost price is Rs. 151, but for a set to be sold at Rs. 100, the Government would have to step in with a subsidy.
But, the cash-strapped Government is yet undecided on the subsidy burden it can take for each of the saree, dhoti and salwar sets.
As a result, the Handlooms department, which wound up the free dhoti-saree scheme owing to the financial crisis and launched the sale of Rs. 40-saree and Rs. 30-dhoti, has now put on hold the ``popular'' low-cost clothes. Instead, 20,000 weavers' families given orders for making uniforms.
Several looms idle
However, in the weavers' villages in Tiruvallur and Vellore districts, several looms, especially those owned by elderly persons, are lying idle. Says 54-year-old weaver, Salammal Arumugham of Sholingur, who has not touched her loom for two months now: ``The uniform `gaada' (thick cloth) is of a higher count and I don't have the strength to weave them. I was weaving 60 sarees a month and making Rs. 3,000. Now, I have to depend on my son for my next meal''.
Her neighbour, C. Dakshinamoorthy adds: ``It is too heavy for me to weave uniform. Unless they give us orders for sarees, our lives will be doomed.''
The young weavers, who are willing to make uniforms, too face a problem: There is a short supply of yarn from Cooptex.
``Normally, we will get 10 bales, now we have not even got two bales. So, of the 500 looms in our village, only 150 are working. The other weavers are without a job,'' says G. D. Ganesan, former president of the Thirumurugan Cooperative Society at Ammayarkuppam in Tiruvallur district.
Officials, however, insist that Cooptex has now tied up with the National Handlooms Development Corporation to ensure prompt supply of quality yarn to the societies. ``There was a problem in one or two districts. But it has been sorted out,'' says a Cooptex official, who insists that the problem lies with the weaver resistance to shift from making sarees to making uniforms.
This year, weavers were given ``sufficient orders'' 1.2-crore metre length of uniforms worth over Rs. 50 crores. ``But the societies have barely completed 15 lakh metres in the last two months and unless the uniforms are ready, saree orders cannot be given,'' says the official.
However, there is no move to fold up the low-cost saree scheme. Indeed, the Government allotted Rs. 27 crores for it this year.
But, the weavers chorus a single-point plea: ``The Government can stop the 20 per cent rebate offer and revive the low-cost saree scheme, which alone will save us from the brink of starvation.''
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