After the government tweaked the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) to incorporate the agriculture sector under it, weavers have asked for a similar privilege.
Weavers want the MGNREGS cover wherever weaving is done and the workdays be calculated for the whole year.
Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar had put his weight behind the cause of farmers concerned about growing labour costs, thanks to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The culture ministry has put its weight behind weavers.
About 600 weavers have gathered at a “kargha yagnya”, near Rajghat in the capital, organised by the Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti — an autonomous body with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as chairman and Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, as vice-chairman. The body comes under the culture ministry.
The Samiti organised a Charkha Yagya last year on Kasturba Gandhi’s death anniversary and had submitted a list of demands to the government, which included loan waiver.
Mani Mala, director of the Samiti, said, “We will hand over the demands to the finance ministry.”
Weavers, however, dismissed the waiver scheme, claiming it did not cover most of them. “It may help some silk weavers in Bhagalpur, but not a single weaver in Motihari or Champaran,” said Amar, who heads the group from Champaran in Bihar. “We don’t get loans, so waivers don’t help. What we need is wages for our work, which the MGNREGA can give.”
The MGNREGA promises minimum wages, which weavers seldom get. Three people making 11 meters a day get just Rs 30 for their work, while the MGNREGA gives Rs 132 a worker, he said.
Amar is surrounded by a group of ageing weavers. “Do you see a single young weaver here? There is none. If weavers continue to be so ill paid, the craft would die with us,” he said.
Weavers also want help from banks and loan of Rs 1 lakh for each of them. Weavers want their work to be taken as guarantee and their produce be linked to payments.
Weavers have also asked for a “dhaga” (thread) bank, to store spun thread that can be procured from spinners and supplied at subsidised rates to them.
“Handmade products are subsidised everywhere except in India. Here nothing is free for weavers. Why shouldn’t weaving be a part of the MGNREGA list of works?” asked Mani Mala.
Mihar Shah, a member of the Planning Commission, who headed a panel that has recommended a set of revised guidelines to the rural development ministry for MGNREGA, said the inclusion of weavers was discussed. But the committee decided against it, as it would complicate matters.
“Who would keep track of assets being created? The MGNREGA may then have to do procurement. Besides, it may benefit owners of units rather than individual weavers,” he said.
Tea planters also wanted to be included in the MGNREGA list, but this was shot down by the committee with similar justifications, he said. “The MGNREGA is being expected to solve every problem. Weavers’ problems need to be addressed urgently, but perhaps separately.”
The problem of weavers is of marketing and raw material, and of providing forward and backward linkages, he said. “It is sad nothing has worked out so far to facilitate this. A separate mechanism may be needed to empower weavers.”