West Bengal is in a resurgent industrial mood. The government is taking a lot of initiatives to revive the dormant industrial sector of the state. After the successful industrial meet with top industry leaders conducted by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Mumbai became a success, the revival of industry in Bengal has become the top priority of the state government.
Towards that end, the state cabinet on Monday, September 9, approved the creation of a concept called ‘Biswa Bangla Brand’ (meaning ‘world of Bengal’). Through it, the state has plans to revive the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) sector. This sector forms a major part the industry in the state.
A holding company called Brand Bengal Marketing Corporation would be formed, to market the Biswa Bangla Brand. Under the brand would come the entire MSME sector of the state. This bringing together of the diverse small industries of West Bengal under one umbrella would enable them to co-ordinate their efforts in promoting and marketing their products, not only in India but worldwide. Through this co-ordination and exchange of ideas under one roof, improvements in the quality of products would also come about.
Mammoth Marketing initiative
According to the plan, Brand Bengal Marketing Corporation would be formed on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis. Opinions of experts in various fields would be taken to promote the holding company. Senior state government officials say this effort would also provide a boost to the handloom and handicrafts sectors of the state.
For some time now, the state has been trying to revive its sick MSME units. For example, it is providing better opportunities to artisans to sell their products by setting up urban and rural markets. Biswa Bangla Brand is a major effort in concretising such efforts.
The three big state-owned enterprises – Majusha, Tantushree and Tantuja – would be part of the Biswa Bangla Brand. Majusha works towards the promotion and marketing of handicrafts as well as the welfare of craftspeople, whereas Tantushree and Tantuja do the same for handloom and powerloom weavers of the state.
According to the Micro, Small & Medium Enterprise Development Act, 2006, framed by the central government, the MSME sector can be broadly divided in terms of the work they are engaged in – manufacturing or the production of goods and providing or rendering services. In the former group, any enterprise whose investment in plant and machinery is up to Rs 25 lakh is classified as a micro enterprise, above Rs 25 lakh and up to Rs 5 crore is a small-scale enterprise, and above Rs 5 crore and up to Rs 10 crore is a medium-scale enterprise.
Similarly, there are clear demarcations for those providing or rendering services. Any company investing in equipment worth up to Rs 10 lakh is classified as a micro enterprise, above Rs 10 lakh and up to Rs 2 crore is a small-scale enterprise, and above Rs 2 crore and up to Rs 5 crore is a medium-scale enterprise.
West Bengal has a major presence in the MSME sector in the country. It ranks second in the country with 43,000 registered and 20.8 lakh unregistered MSMEs that provide employment to 58.5 lakh people. Biswa Bangla Brand would thus help in improving the livelihoods of these tens of lakhs of people all over the state.
Modernising old brands
Jamdani, Santipuri, Baluchari and Tangail are some of the famous varieties of saris of West Bengal that have enthralled connoisseurs for ages. Now, things organic are the rage anywhere in the world. They are costly, but they are also authentic or healthy, as the case may be, and hence there is a great value proposition to them.
So, using organic colours - colours derived from natural sources - is being touted as the new mantra for the handloom sector in West Bengal. Towards that end, 50 handloom workers from Fulia in Nadia district, which is traditionally famous for tangail saris, have started working with organic colours. Efforts are on to ensure that these reach the market in time for this year’s Durga Puja shopping season.
These saris would no doubt be costly. Each would cost around Rs 12,000. So, besides West Bengal, the state is also tapping markets in other states as well as international markets to sell these saris. The Biswa Bangla Brand recently formed, a brainchild of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, has been formed with precisely this intention: to help in marketing state-produced goods in the MSME sector. And handloom is a high-potential sector within the state’s handloom industry.
Other efforts are also being made to spruce up Tantuja, Tantusree and Manjusha. Modernising the outlets of these for-a-long-time-sick brands in the different districts is one among them. The outlets are going to be air-conditioned to draw customers. Other facilities are also going to be there for customers in the outlets.
Shantipur is another of Nadia’s famous saree-producing areas. Now, because of the lack of opportunities in the state till recently, a lot of people have started working in other profitable fields. As a result, a lot of skill, which had been handed over from generation to generation, was being lost forever. As part of the effort to bring this loss of skill from the state under control, the government is going to set up an institute in Shantipur to train people in traditional methods of weaving.
Positive Impact of Government Initiative
A positive aspect of the government’s attempts to revive the handloom industry is to see that these handloom workers do not fall into debt traps by borrowing too much money. Often, lack of adequate funding from banks forces the poor to borrow money from unscrupulous money lenders at high rates of interest. Unable to pay that off, they fall into debt cycles, with often disastrous consequences. The government is keeping an open eye to ensure that handloom workers stay off such moneylenders and their high lending rates.
With the rich heritage in handlooms that West Bengal has, properly marketing such goods can rake in huge profits for the state. Profitable not only in terms of money earned by the state government, but simultaneously, in terms of the employment scenario in the state.
There is an acute scarcity of employment in the state. A lot of the state’s poor go to other states and even to places like the Gulf, to earn a livelihood. This also leads to a huge loss of traditional skills, as has been mentioned above.
Reviving the handloom sector would ensure people are able to earn a proper livelihood in the state, and that the traditional knowledge is not lost; through these initiatives the government can pave the way for industrial revival in West Bengal.