Reservation for handlooms makes no sense - Handlooom
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Reservation for handlooms makes no sense

The Government of India promulgated the Handlooms (Reservation of Articles for Production) Act, 1985 dated 29.3.1985 with a view to protect the interests of the handloom weavers in the country from the encroachment of the Powerloom and Mill sector on their livelihood. Under the Act, protection to the handloom sector was extended by way of reserving certain textile articles for exclusive production by handlooms. Presently11 textiles articles are reserved for exclusive production on handlooms vide Notification No. S.O.557(E) dated 26.7.96 as amended vide S.O. 408(E) dated 2.6.99 and S.O. 405(E) dated 25.4.2000.

The 11 reserved textile articles under the Handloom Reservation Order 1996 are:

 1) Saree: made of cotton or silk with extra warp and /or extra weft design in border and/or heading and/or body including buttas containing in any coloured or grey or bleached yarn or zari or any other metallic/metalized yarn or has a solid coloured woven border. Tie and dye saree, warp wise and/or weft wise made out of cotton or silk or art silk in any combination thereof irrespective if count of yarn or dimensions with or without extra warp or extra weft solid woven border.

2) Dhoti: made out of cotton or silk in any combination thereof woven with extra warp and/or extra weft design using more than 16 dents inclusive of selvedge in the border including solid coloured woven border and / or extra weft heading irrespective of count and dimensions.

3) Towel, Gamcha and Angawastaram: woven in plain, mat, twill, honeycomb, huckaback or a combination of these weaves with border or heading which is also jointly characterized by cotton or blends of cotton with any other fiber; and has different dimensions and may be white or coloured; and May contain decorative design when produced on jacquard.

4) Lungi: made out of cotton or art silk or in any combination thereof having a width of 110 cms. or above and 64 ends per inch and above and woven in check and/or stripe design using coloured yarn to form check and/or stripe pattern.

5) Khes, Bedsheet, Bedcover, Counterpane, Furnishing (including tapestry, upholstery): What ever they called in different parts of country, including double cloth and tie & dye, made out of cotton or art silk or in any combination thereof, woven with design pattern on multi-treadle loom and/or with dobby and/or jacquards up to 200 hooks in case of pure cotton warp and up to 400 hooks in case of combination of cotton & art silk warp, irrespective of count and dimensions.

6) Jamakkalam Durry or Durret: made out of cotton or art silk or wool or jute or in any combination thereof using coarse count of single yarn or plies of resultant count having up to 24 ends/inch, woven with plain weave or twill weave or in combination of both twill and plain weave in any dimension.

7) Dress Material: including Mashru cloth and yarn tie & die cloth, made out of cotton or silk (including spun silk) or art silk or in any combination thereof woven with extra weft design in the border and/or body irrespective of count and dimensions.

8) Barrack Blankets, Kambal or Kamblies: Barrack Blankets made of wool of average 34 micron or coarser, with fibrous surface, produced by milling and raising; and includes barrack blankets made by using hand spun or mill spun woolen yarn from natural grey or black wool or its combination and produced in any size and in any weave.

(b) Kambal or kamblies means a thick fabric made of wool of average 34 micron or coarser, with fibrous surface, produced by milling and raising ; and includes kambal or kamblies made by using hand spun or mill spun, worsted, woolen yarn or its combination in plain, stripe or check design.

9) Shawl, Loi, Muffler, Pankhi etc. shawls woven, with extra weft designs, using woolen or worsted or pashmina or pure silk yarn or cotton yarn and/or its combination or blends with other fibers i.e. natural and/or manmade/synthetic fibre thereof with dobby/jacquard design effect up to 400 hooks; using any type of woollen, worsted or phasmina or pure silk yarn or cotton yarn and/or in combination thereof; it is woven with any count of yarn; it is woven in any length, width and weight; and is commonly known by that name.

10) Woolen Tweed: is a piece of fabric woven by 100% pure woolen yarn for making coats, jackets and dress materials and is also jointly characterized by the check or stripe design irrespective of dimensions; and It is produced in 3 / 1 twill weave.

11) Chaddar, Mekhala/Phanek: is used for covering lower and/or upper part of the body and is manufactured from cotton or silk or art silk or in any combination thereof woven in plain/will weave with check or stripe design irrespective of count and dimensions and is characterized by a border and/or cross border with extra warp and/or extra weft design.

(b) to (d) : Under section 6,7& 8 of the Handlooms (Reservation of Articles for Production) Act, 1985, the authorized officers not below the rank of Assistant Director are empowered to call for information, enter and inspect & search and seize articles during the course of inspections of powerloom units/mills and also book case of violation of the Act, in case any powerloom or mill found producing textiles articles in violation of the Act. Any violation under the Act is punishable for imprisonment of 6 months or fine upto Rs. 5000/-per powerloom or both under section 10 of the Act. In order to protect the interest of handloom sector, the targets are fixed by D.C.
Handlooms and circulated to all the implementing agencies for inspection of power loom units and mills under annual action plan.

Reservation for handlooms makes no sense

The Handlooms (Reservation of Articles for Production) Act, 1985, needs to be revisited in view of today’s realities. The Handlooms Act has reserved almost all mass-consumed items to be produced by handlooms since 1985. This reservation continues till date, despite the fact that it would be impossible for us to clothe a billion people economically by using handlooms. Even in 1985, it was an impossible Act to comply with.

The reservation persists in spite of the common knowledge that most mass-consumed items are produced only on powerlooms.

When hank yarn was brought under the excise net in 2002, powerloom units, strangely enough, were up in arms against the order, and openly admitted that bulk of the hank yarn was indeed consumed by them. Bringing hank yarn under excise will affect them adversely, they argued.

More recently, when the Textiles Commissioners’ officers found several thousands of powerlooms making items reserved for handlooms, they too admitted that powerlooms had been making these items for several decades, and, in fact, should continue making them.

Over 75 per cent of the goods exported from the Karur region, through the Handloom Export Promotion Council, too, are made on powerloom or even on shuttle-less looms.

ROLE OF MGNREGA ( Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 ) 

Reservations also seem redundant in the context of MGNREGA, the rural jobs scheme. As a safety net, MGNREGA has eliminated the need to protect jobs that add no real economic value.

Such an approach of protecting jobs does not exist in other sectors. We are not reserving certain types of mass cultivated crops such as paddy, wheat, groundnut, cotton or sugarcane to be ploughed exclusively by bullock-drawn ploughs to protect traditional jobs. Nor do we insist that national highways be created using manual labor, to protect unskilled jobs done over decades by nomads. We need to protect only those jobs that add economic value. In case the Act is indeed enforced, it would create sub-optimal jobs, leading to inflation.

Handloom produced the handloom way would turn out to be prohibitively expensive for the masses. Enforcement would also create rent-seeking opportunities for the enforcing authorities.

MGNREGA is an excellent safety net. Thanks to it, the withdrawal of support for economically untenable activity need not lead to abject poverty on account of non-availability of alternative jobs.

Continuing with reservation for mass-consumed products, therefore, serves no purpose. Once mass-produced items are de-reserved, we will only have items consumed by the rich for their handicraft value in the reserved category. Handicraft value is intrinsic to handlooms, and cannot become a part of powerlooms.

The Handlooms Act, which exists for the most part only on paper, has far outlived its utility and needs to be scrapped — and with it the hank yarn obligation policy.


The way to popularize handlooms, thereafter, is to show-case handlooms as testimony to our rich cultural heritage. It is, therefore, important to revive handlooms to produce more intricate fabrics for the super-rich, through a formal engagement with traditional weavers. The handloom weaver should be converted into a respected, highly-paid artisan, from a daily wage earner living in poverty. Only then will our rich heritage of handloom weaving survive and, in fact, flourish.

Handlooms are meant to clothe the millionaires of India, and not the billion Indians. Listen to SadhGuru in below video to know about the reason. Let us not mandate the flute to stoke the fire in the oven.

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