The traditional weaving industry in Tangail is going through a tough time as the coronavirus pandemic and recent floods have caused the industry a loss of Tk250.71 crore.
The bad days of this weaving industry began shortly after the outbreak of the coronavirus. All the operational mills and factories were shut down on March 26 following the government directives to prevent the Covid-19 from spreading.
According to Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC), the weaving industry of the district suffers an average loss of Tk1.87 crore every day. Moreover, the recent floods have also hit the industry severely.
The floods have washed away everything including looms, cloth, and other weaving equipment. Besides, the waterlogging is also damaging the handloom raw materials for about a month and a half.
Eid-ul-Fitr, every year, is the peak season for this industry. The weavers make a good profit during the two Eid occasions and meet expenses for the entire year.
But this time, because of coronavirus, the export of Tangail saris has remained completely halted for the last four months.
Besides, shopping malls in the country, including those in Dhaka, remained closed for a long time due to the shutdown. So, there is no new orders for handloom saris. Even after the lifting of the shutdown, the buyers are not interested in buying those products.
So, there is no change in the condition of the weavers. Eid-ul-Azha has also witnessed a similar downtrend in the business.
Weaving areas under BSCIC
Bangladesh Handloom Board (BHB) has a branch of BSCIC at Balla of Kalihati in the district. The branch covers Ghatail, Madhupur, Dhanbari, Gopalpur, Kalihati and Bhuapur upazilas.
And the Bajitpur BSCIC centre in Sadar upazila covers Delduar, Basail, Mirzapur, Nagarpur and Sakhipur areas.
Under the Balla BSCIC centre, there are 49 primary weavers' associations and four secondary weavers' associations. They have altogether 27,931 handlooms operational under 4,391 owners.
Some 2,673 looms have been closed for financial crisis since long. And the operational factories suffered the blow of the recent flood. The water has damaged the looms, cloth and other necessary equipment in the factories.
Under the Bajitpur BSCIC in Sadar upazila, there are 32 primary weavers' associations and three secondary weavers' associations. There are 12,429 handlooms of 2,267 owners.
Of these, 2,673 looms have already been closed or out of production, while 9,756 are in operation. Those BSCIC centres primarily produced saris from fine yarn.
According to the estimation of BSCIC sources, the loss was around Tk78.4 lakh on average every day (minimum Tk800 per handloom) because of the closure of the factories to comply with the government directives during the outbreak of coronavirus epidemic.
And now, most of the factories are closed due to the floods.
Under Kalihati Centre, there are 17 primary weaving associations and one secondary weaving association. They altogether have 18,175 handlooms under the ownership of 2,124 people. These handlooms also produce saris of coarse yarn.
According to the BSCIC centre, the factories have been closed since March 26 due to coronavirus outbreak. So, they witnessed a loss of Tk1.9 crore per day (minimum Tk600 per handloom) in average.
No sales even in peak seasons
The handloom owners, workers, BSCIC centre officials and other people concerned in Tangail have expressed their frustration over the future of this handloom industry.
The best seasons for sari business are Pahela Boishakh, Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Adha and Durga Puja. But no saris were sold on these occasions. The saris that were produced and stored keeping these seasons in mind have not been sold as well.
The sari production target for Pohela Boishakh was set at Tk106.13 crore. If the saris were sold at an average profit of Tk100, the profit would be around Tk8.6 crore.
The most expensive saris are made and sold during Eid-ul-Fitr. But following the experience of Pahela Boishakh, no target was set for sari production for the Eid. The same was the case with Eid-ul-Azha, while the handloom owners do not see any hope for the upcoming Durga Puja.
Can government incentive help?
Handloom is now enough to earn a living. So, the handloom owners and workers are thinking to change their profession.
Neel Kamal Basak, a weaver and trader in Pathrail- known as the capital of Tangail saris, said the coronavirus and floods caused a great damage to the handloom industry.
"Alongside incentives, the government should also play a role in creating a market for the handloom saris," he said.
Kalachand Basak, vice president of Tangail District Handloom League, said that they were worried about the future of the industry in the changed situation.
"If interest-free loans and government incentives are not available, weavers will not be able to stand on their own feet," he said.
Tangail Central Cooperative Welfare Association President Mofakhkharul Islam said the handloom industry is in crisis for the severity of the floods alongside the Covid-19.
"The handloom owners and about 1.5 lakh people involved in it are suffering from unemployment and social insecurity. Even those who once distributed donations are no longer able to meet the basic needs of their families," he said.
Md Imranul Haque, acting liaison officer at BHB Balla (Kalihati) BSCIC Centre, said, "The weavers here usually produce saris from coarse yarn. The industry is suffering from the flood and the impact of coronavirus."
The BHB is distributing microcredit among the small and marginal weavers. But the amount of loss is huge and the small loans are of no help, he observed.
"I have sent a list to the district administration to provide incentive to the weavers," he added.
Rabiul Islam, liaison officer of Tangail Sadar Bajitpur BSCIC, said that they were providing microcredit to small and marginal weavers at only 5 percent service charge.
They do not have the opportunity to work violating government guidelines, he added.
"Weavers have to come forward to produce, market saris made from handloom or create new markets. The weaving industry has largely been destroyed by the floods and coronavirus. Even if the industry can overcome the damage caused for the flood, it may face a crisis in the post-coronavirus situation," feared Rabiul.