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Ground Report: Weavers From Banhatti In Karnataka Face A Bleak Future Due To Meagre Income And Unfulfilled Govt Promises

The residents of around 300 houses in the KHDC colony are still waiting for the rights over their homes which were leased out to them.

Subhash Nimanna, 67, spends three to four hours every day, weaving clothes. He has lived in the Karnataka Handloom Development Corporation (KHDC) Colony at Banhatti in Bagalkot since 1987 and manages to earn a mere Rs 2,000 on certain months when the corporation gives work. He has been eagerly waiting for the day when he will become the official owner of “his own house”. Because of bureaucratic hassles, however, the residents of around 300 houses in the colony are still waiting for the rights over their homes which were leased out to them.

In 1975, when KHDC was established, several weavers shifted to the living-cum-work sheds exclusively constructed for them across Karnataka. They took these sheds — one-room houses with a kitchen —— on lease for 27 years, for Rs 28,000; the government paid Rs 14,000 as subsidy and Rs 14,000 was funded by the individuals. As per the occupants, there was an understanding with the government that they would become the official owners after the completion of the period. While the government has fulfilled the promise in the case of weavers residing in other parts of the state, the ones living in Banhatti feel cheated due to the indifference shown towards them.

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Raw materials kept at Banhatti KHDC office.

As per government sources, the land for building the KHDC colony in Banhatti was taken from the Forest Department on lease for 99 years. Forests are under concurrent list and for converting forest land to non-forest land, the state government has to de-notify the land, to hand over the houses to the weavers. “If you see, they are getting all the basic facilities. The thing is they want three phase electricity for power looms which is possible only if the houses are officially registered in their names,” KHDC  Technical Officer SJ Talatti told NewsCnetral24x7. Talatti explained that till the time the weavers are living in the houses, technically owned by KHDC; they cannot start power looms — the corporation is only involved in handloom-related work.

Nimanna agrees that they want to work on power looms and start other businesses because depending primarily on KHDC for work isn’t feasible for them. Under the Intensive Handloom Development Projects, the government provides yarn to weavers and gives monetary allowances in return of the clothes that they procure. The prices are fixed at Rs 30 for one metre. The weavers receive immediate payment after depositing the clothes; however, the commission often delays the process of providing them with raw materials.

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“Since the main work is related to Vidya Vikas Scheme (government scheme, free uniforms are provided), we get fund from the Education Department. Rs 40 crore per annum is allocated to KHDC in three instalments. Last year, the September instalment was delayed, so in such cases, we don’t have work to offer to the weavers,” said S Vijay Kumar, the administrator at KHDC Banahatti and Rabkavi.

Subhash Nimanna shows the official documents which mention that a house was leased out to him for 27 years.

Another weaver Sunanda Galgali, 53, managed to earn only Rs 2,500 in April. Galgali’s elder brother Parmeshwar P Jere, 65, cannot even walk properly due to joint pain, which was caused due to working on handlooms for prolonged hours. Parmeshwar’s wife Parvati Jere earned Rs 3,000 in April; their son works at a private power loom as a daily worker for around Rs 8,000 per month. “We are a family of seven people. First, we don’t regularly get work from KHDC; sometimes we work for a month and then there’s nothing for two months. Second, it is a strenuous process; I often have body ache and severe chest ache because of the nature of work. Look at my brother; he can’t do anything,” Galgali laments. The monthly income of the weavers is not fixed. When they manage to get work, they earn Rs 2,000-Rs, 5000 in a month.

Pandappa Bhimappa Rawal, 70, underlines that the next generation no longer sees handloom weaving as a viable option and want to switch to power looms because it is “faster” and “less tiresome”. He also complains that the raw material given by the KHDC employees are of inferior quality. When they return the clothes, the employees often refuse to pay them for the full length citing defects, he says.

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SV Kulkarni, the pre-loom process house in-charge in Banhatti explains that they have to follow specific parameters while checking the clothes when the weavers come to deposit and collect money. For instance, 100 centimetres is the width specified for clothes used to make shirts, and garments with breakages (i.e. improper thread placement) are not accepted. “The weavers know what parameters they have to follow. We have also told them that in case the threads break or there’s any other issue, they can always call us to their houses, and we guide them. But, sometimes in spite of all these efforts, they bring clothes which don’t meet all the requirements,” Kulkarni says. Polyester cotton and polyester viscose materials are sent from the Banhatti KHDC unit to the head office in Bangalore. These materials are used for making school uniforms — skirts, shirts and pants — which the state government distributes for free under the Vidya Vikas Scheme.

Parmeshwar P Jere cannot work due to joint pain and his sister Sunanda Galgali and wife Parvati Jere (R) weave clothes to run the family.

What’s in store for the weavers?

In Banhatti KHDC colony, there are around 445 handloom weavers. In total, there are 89,256 handloom weavers in Karnataka, according to a Ministry of Textile 2015 report. Most of them are dependant on KHDC for their income, says  Shivalingn Tiraki, Karnataka Rajya Nekar Seva Sangha president. There are nine centres across the state — Banahatti, Rabkavi, Ramadurga, Ilkal, Ranebennur, Gulbarga, Basavanalyan, Bhagyanagar, EOP Badag-Betageri — where weavers get work under the Intensive Handloom Development Projects. Besides, there are 132 sub-centres, including collection centres across the state.

The long gaps due to fund crunch leading to irregular income and strenuous work hours have forced weavers to look at alternate sources of employment. Respiratory diseases like asthma, muscle pain and body ache are some of the adverse health effects that they have to face too. In Banhatti, most of the weavers who are continuing with handloom have crossed 50 years of age. Hence, they want the government to at least officially register the houses in their names, so that their children can judiciously use the space and start other businesses.

In 2010, the Union government started an initiative to give photo identity cards to weavers. The workers claim that the cards have so far not been of any use. Mahatma Gandhi Bunkar Bima Yojana provides insurance cover to handloom weavers (18-59 years) in case of accidental death or partial disability up to Rs 1,50,000. “There is nothing for weavers who have crossed 60 years of age and are suffering from serious health issues. Even weavers who are below 60 years of age can avail it only during disability and deaths, the scope is minimal,” Tiraki says, adding, “We have met the local BJP MLA (Siddappa Kallappa Savadi) several times and requested him to ensure that the financial status improves and those in Banhatti get their houses because this is plain injustice. We have even met Smriti Irani in Bangalore and apprised her of the situation.”

Ready warp beams (yarn) in Banhatti KHDC pre-loom process house. These beams are supplied to the weavers and they procure woven clothes.

The weavers in Banhatti sat on a protest in January demanding ownership over their houses and regular work from KHDC. They called off the strike after senior officials ensured them that measures would be taken to fulfil their demands. While they were provided raw materials for some time, the weavers complain that they still sit without work on several days. Meanwhile, their wait to get their houses and a better standard of life remains, for now, a pipe dream.

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