A study of the level of upgradation of technology achieved in the realm of spindles shows that at the most 28 million spindles are modern out of 49 million spindles. In the case of looms, it is found that out of about 24 lakh power-driven looms in the country the population of shuttleless looms is 1.10 – 1.20 lakh, with the majority being second-hand.

Glorious Past

The spinners and weavers of ancient and medieval India had attained the pinnacle of glory in their craft. The medieval European History refers to the grievance of some European countries that Indian cloth merchants carried back home bags full of gold on supply of exquisite, eye-catching, mind-blowing fabrics, which were the fancy of the topmost layer of the society. Another example is of famous Dacca Muslin. It used to be so fine that a piece of Muslin could easily pass through a finger-ring. The height of excellence scaled by Dacca weavers had a tragic end, as the story goes, with their thumbs being chopped off. It is now all history frozen in time.

Unduly Long Summer

From the position of supremacy in the international race, the scenario started changing fast, after the start of factory production of cloth. The Second World War was a turning point for the textile industry in India, because there was tremendous pressure on the industry to supply adequate quantities of cloth to Allied Forces, apart from meeting the clothing requirements of the country. This resulted in the intensive utilization of machinery, skipping normal upkeep or maintenance. The worn-out machinery required early replacement.

Why did the Indian textile industry which could climb the summit, when the manufacture of textiles was a craft, and was successful in the initial years of factory production could not hold its own in the international race after the lapse of some years? The industry by then, had got all that was necessary for a successful run, an astute management tapestry, assured availability of skilled workers, devoted technical staff and all-round commitment in the factory complex. Was there anything lacking? Yes, two things, developing technology and fashion.

In the Second Plan, emphasis was laid on the development of the handloom industry and the weaving capacity in the organized sector was frozen. At the same time, the import policy was tightened making imports of textile machinery difficult. The issue of modernisation failed to receive proper consideration of the authorities and had to take a back seat.

Golden Gift

In the meantime, the industry which was once exporting one thousand million yards of cloth per annum was unable to go beyond 300-400 million yards, in a year. Government realized the heavy backlog of modernization was a tremendous drag on the industry. Recognizing the importance of giving a facelift to the industry, Government formulated a scheme for modernization of the textile industry to promote fresh investments and infusion of modern technology in the late 1970s. The scheme heralded the arrival of a new phase of rejuvenation of machinery to strengthen the sinews of the industry.

However, the industry got a real fillip when the Technology Upgradation Scheme, universally known as the flagship scheme of the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India was launched on 1st April 1999. It is a golden gift to the textile industry which brought about its unbelievable transformation.

Overwhelming response to TUFS

In the initial years of TUFS the response was somewhat lukewarm. But once the scheme struck a chord, it picked up the speed and then there was no looking back. Within a period of 15 years fresh investments in the industry were of the order of nearly 2.6 lakh crore of rupees, which even the most optimistic must not have dreamt at the start of the scheme.

Large investments in fixed assets brought in its wake the desired results. Export of textiles and clothing (excluding fibres and wastes) took a long jump from US $ 9 billion in 1999-2000 to US $ 32 billion in 2013-14 i.e. a jump of 255% in a period of 14 years, at average growth rate of 18 % per annum.

In the case of labour employment, the growth in direct employment was from 33.17 million in March 2006 to 35.4 million in 2008 and to 42.6 million in 2012 and is expected to rise to 53.2 million in 2018. Along with allied sectors like cotton cultivation, cotton ginning/pressing, cotton trade, sheep rearing, Textile Machinery and accessories, the total employment increased from 88.02 million in March 2006 to 105.4 million by March 2011 and is expected to touch 121 million by 2016-17.

Population of modern spindles

At this stage, it is worth examining the population of modern spindles and looms in the industry.

Since import and export figures of spindles are in kg, unlike domestic production figures, which are in numbers, as it should be, it is necessary to convert figures in kg into numbers. For this purpose, it has been assumed in consultation with some experts, that the weight of one spindle is one kg.  Within the aforesaid constraints, the number of modern spindles in the industry has been estimated at about 28 million.

In good old days, there used to be an official publication giving age-wise distribution of important machinery. Even if this publication was not issued with regular periodicity, an earlier issue of it can be updated on the basis of figures of import, export and domestic production of machines. In the absence of the publication, it is a herculean task to build a good estimate of modern machines. Nevertheless, within the aforesaid constraints the number of modern spindles in the industry is estimated at about 28 million.

At the end of FY 2012-13, the number of installed spindles was 49.17 million, as per Annual Report of CITI for 2012-13. It means about 57% of spindles could be reckoned as modern. In other words, it is still a long way to go to modernize the entire industry. Furthermore, modernization is not a one-time operation, but a continuous process. Spindles installed in the earlier period of TUFS would eventually require replacement, because of the fast pace of the introduction of machines of later generations.

Population of shuttleless looms

The weaving sector is practically in the decentralized sector, as there are only 52,000 looms in composite mills and another 15,000 looms in exclusive large weaving units including 100% export-oriented units. At the same time, there are 22-23 lakh powerlooms in the small-scale powerloom sector. The total complement of 1.10 – 1.20 lakh shuttleless looms as of date spotlights the gigantic magnitude of the problem of backlog.

Between 2007-2008 and 2012-2013, 50,602 shuttleless looms were imported into the country, of which 31,705 were second-hand ones. It means 63% second-hand shuttleless looms were imported. Such a high percentage of pre-owned looms highlights the financial weakness of the powerloom industry to import brand new looms.

Although the problem may not be insoluble, it is certainly a big challenge. The powerloom industry finds it difficult to give collateral security. In extreme cases, the factory shed belongs to one person, looms to another person, a third person operates the looms with hired labour and the fourth person called a master weaver is the person to finance the operations.

What needs to be done?

Since weaving is the weakest link of the textile chain apart from processing, it is necessary to give top priority for hastening the pace of modernization of weaving. Two policy packages are required one for spinning and the other for weaving.

Package of measures for spinning

There is an urgent need for consolidation of the powerloom industry. For this purpose, a large number of powerloom parks should be set up at major powerloom centres. An innovative scheme which will not cast unbearable financial burden on powerlooms needs to be evolved for the purpose. The provision of centralized facilities for designing and developing fabrics is a must. The scheme may provide services of experts of fabrics geometry which will help manufacture novel and innovative fabrics for different purposes and end-uses.

Built-up areas called Galas in Powerloom Parks should be allotted on hire-purchase basis, with a low rate of interest so that the question of making upfront payment may not arise. The scheme should give preference to existing powerloom factories, preferably those which are registered with the State Directors of Industries.

To ensure availability of quality yarn to the decentralized sector, at economic prices, the supply of such yarn should be increased. The Revised Restructured TUFS provides for 2% interest reimbursement for stand-alone spinning units, while for units having spinning capacity with forward integration having matching capacity in weaving/knitting/processing/garmenting 5%interest subvention is provided.

Twenty three to twenty four lakh powerlooms, whose number is increasing every year and equal number of handlooms (whose number keeps on dwindling) whom spinning mills supply yarn are the downstream industries connected (if not attached) with the spinning mills.

There is another dimension to this issue. In the case of two reputed manufacturers of spinning frames in the country which were the main source for supply of modern spinning frames, production of one unit in 2012-13 was 75% of its production in 2011-12, while in the case of another unit it was 40%. This has happened at a time when there is good demand for yarn both domestic and external.

If a comprehensive account is taken of the need to increase supply of quality yarn to meet rising demands in the domestic market and for exports, and of the existence of unutilized capacity of reputed manufacturers of spinning frames in the country, Government may like to consider the abolition of dichotomy of spinning mills and offer the same interest reimbursement of 5% to all spinning mills.

Package for weaving

What accelerated modernization of spinning mills which, by and large are run by reputed corporates is the domestic availability of spinning frames of international quality. What aided the aforesaid development is the large domestic market. Unfortunately, such a situation does not exist in weaving which predominantly consists of small-scale units which are not on the front foot to undertake modernisation at a rapid speed. But the fragmented units may opt for consolidation if environment is made friendly. If that happens the domestic demand for shuttleless looms will go northward.

The textile industry has immense potential for earning more and more foreign exchange even in the teeth of cut-throat international competition, and expand job opportunities to accommodate fresh entrants in the employment market, but the strengthening rupee may become a cause for concern for the exporting industry. To sum up, the TUFS must continue till the industry requires such support.