Dust lifts off the ground as 50-year-old Yaseen Ansari walks into his textile manufacturing unit for the first time in two months. Inside, 20-odd powerlooms sit silently, covered in dust and cobwebs. The family-owned textile manufacturing facility, located on a narrow alley of Narpoli in Bhiwandi, has not been operational for almost a year.
A kilometre away, a handful of powerlooms weave ‘fancy’ fabric — white fabric with intricate borders of red and blue – at Iqbal Burhanpuri’s textile unit in Khadipar. A large part of the unit is not operational. He had once sold the fabric for Rs 37 a meter, he said, but is now unable to find traders willing to buy it for Rs 25.
“Bhiwandi’s textile industry has become a casualty of volatile government policies that keep changing every few months. First there was demonetisation, then there was the new tax,” said Ansari, adding that the year 2017 was catastrophic for the state’s textile industry.
Almost a year ago, the alleys in Bhiwandi — one of India’s largest textile hubs, located 20 km northeast of Mumbai — were abuzz with the constant whirring of powerlooms. Today, they wear a somewhat deserted look as many units remain shut. Those that are operational, are only partly so.
The textile industry, which is heavily dependent on cash transactions, had been crippled by the move to ban old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, announced by the Prime Minister on November 8, 2016. As weavers were still reeling under the impact of demonetisation, the government’s introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) did little to ease the situation.
Five months on, business has picked up only slightly. “Some of the master weavers have been able to mobilise capital and resumed operations. I have been able to start 200 looms,” said Rashid Tahir Momin, former MLA from Bhiwandi, whose family owns around 500 looms.
However, not many weavers are hopeful. The year-long slowdown has wiped out capital, pushed weavers into a debt cycle and created a shortage of labour. While many, including Ansari, have not been able to resume operations, some have even had to mortgage their looms. Now, they work as contractors for other master weavers.