Book on Indian silk industry released
GUWAHATI, Jan 8 – Muga, the celebrated golden yarn of Assam, and also its famed eri silk, preceded China’s mulberry-based silk by 2,000 years. This and many pieces of interesting information find mention in Indian Ways of Silk: Precious Threads Bridging India’s Past, Present and Future – a first-of-its-kind book on the country’s indigenous silk industry which was formally released in the city on Saturday.
Authored by Ole Zethner, Rie Koustrup – both from Denmark – and Dilip Barooah, the well-illustrated book gives detailed descriptions of Indian mulberry and wild silk moths and their products. It covers biological, technological, commercial, cultural and historical aspects of sericulture and silk production in India.
Releasing the book, Assam Assembly Speaker Pranab Gogoi said that the book would serve a long-standing need of the State’s silk industry and contribute immensely towards showcasing it before a global audience.
“It attempts to give more insights into Indian silk with special emphasis on eri and muga silk of Assam and the North-east. It might be a surprise to many to note that eri, muga and tassar silks existed in India some 2,000 years before Chinese mulberry silk, which we use as paat silk,” Barooah, one of the authors and a textile technocrat, said.
Stating that the book would project India in a global context, Barooah said that at the same time, it was the first comprehensive book on muga and eri cultures and silks in Assam and the North-east. “This will certainly help popularise eri and muga silk across the globe,” he added.
Writer and critic Lakshminath Tamuly and filmmaker Sanjiv Sabhapandit were the other distinguished guests at the book release function.
The book is the third of a trilogy written by the first two authors. Their first book, Ways of Silk (2007) in the Danish language covers Europe, and the second book, African Ways of Silk (2008) was co-written with Sunesh Kunar Raina, Icipe, Kenya.
Indian Ways of Silk has been published by Bhabani Print and Publications.
Fabric Plus featured in front page of Economic Times 26/07/2010
Industry takes over insurgency
Once an Ulfa hotbed, the N-E state is now buzzing with business activity
Sutanuka Ghosal & Bikash Singh KOLKATA| GUWAHATI
ARCHANA Kalita, all of 10 years, was returning home with her two friends, Mimi and Kalpita, from a makeshift village school 4.5 km away in the neighbouring hamlet. They were barefoot, tired and hungry, and were desperate to reach home. The sun was nearly on the horizon as the friends hurried along. Boom!
Archana found herself lifted and flung into the rice field below. When she came around, she found people hunched over her. She looked around. Her clothes were tattered and blackened; she was bleeding and couldn’t move her right leg. Little Mimi’s body lay on either side of the road. Kalpita, too, was dead; the shrapnel had passed through her head. Archana was rushed to the nearest healthcare centre. That evening, the only words she cried over and over were “moi ma-ar usoroloi jabo bisarisu” (I want to go to ma).
That was 2000, when Archana’s village Chaygaon, located 70 km from Guwahati, was a hotbed of Ulfa (United Liberation Front of Assam) insurgency. Back then, when Assam bolted its doors with the sunset, only fear stalked the streets. Daylight didn’t bring any respite, as residents waited for the next blast.
Ten years on, some things haven’t changed, some things have. Archana still lives in Chaygaon. But she now lives more under a promise of prosperity and less under a shadow of violence. She is now a confident, 20-year-old woman. “I work there, at Fabric Plus,” she says, with a twinkle in her eye and a finger pointing to a textile unit that was set up in August 2009. Fabric Plus manufactures and exports silk yarn, fabrics, designer fashion and homefashion accessories. The 9-crore company, which began operations in 2003 and sells its products under the brand Silk Country, has two manufacturing facilities and two showrooms in Assam. Guwahati in the midst of a retail revolution
FABRIC Plus is symbolic of the change happening in Chaygaon, and in other parts of the state that was once torn by violence and is still reminded off its bloody past every now and then.
In 2008, Chaygaon got an industrial centre. Spread over 133 acres, it currently has six tenants. Besides Fabric Plus, there is CG Foods (manufacturer of Wai Wai noodles), Sona Vets (animal-food products), Rausheena Udyog (engineering), Prag Electrical (electrical gear) and GM Ispat (steel).
“The insurgency fear is gradually fading away,” says Dilip Barooah, managing director of Fabric Plus, who moved to Mumbai after completing his studies in Assam and is now finding a reason to come back. “An investor-friendly climate is being created. This prompted me to set up a unit in Chaygaon last year, where about 140 women work.” One of those 140 women is Archana. Her life has completely changed. “This job is Godsent, it’s a great opportunity. I’ve been able to buy gold jewellery also,” she laughs, the violence of the past tucked away in the recesses of her mind.
The industrial centre has created 3,000 direct jobs and 2,000 indirect jobs. The minimum salary here is 3,000 a month. Not surprisingly, land prices have increased from 80,000 per bigha in 2009 to 2.1 lakh per bigha in 2010. Television sets, refrigerators and mobiles are essentials. About 4,500 families in and around Chaygaon, in the formerly terror centres of Udalguri, Karbi Anglong and Kokrajhar, are now supplying eri silk cocoons to Mr Barooah’s unit, among others. Each family earns about 5,000 a month from supplying cocoons.
Chaygaon is an illustration of how industrial activity is picking up miles away from Guwahati, the state’s commercial capital. Within a 100-km radius of Guwahati, the change is most pronounced. Jobs are being created in the infrastructure, banking, insurance, agriculture, real estate and retail sectors. Says state industry minister Pradyut Bordoloi: “About 23,000 local youth have landed jobs in industries set up in the greater Guwahati area in the last two to three years. This number is projected to increase to 50,000 in the next three years.”
Government schemes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) have significantly increased employment opportunities in Assam. In rural areas, including some of the most backward districts of Assam, there has been a drop in the number of people migrating to towns. Plus, the PMGSY has improved connectivity in rural areas.
In Guwahati, on both sides of the Guwahati-Shillong Road, malls and branded stores have sprung up. Malls like HUB, Sohum Shoppe, The Cube and Dona Planet are now landmarks. Vishal Megamart has a store. As do Pantaloon, Big Bazaar, Bazaar Kolkata and Salasar. Reebok, Adidas, Levi Strauss, LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Onida and almost all automobile companies have more than one outlet in this area.
According to industry sources, in the last four to five years, mobile companies have provided jobs to about 1.2 million in the North-East, with 75% of these being in Assam. About 25,000 TV sets are sold every month and 85,000 refrigerators annually in the North-East, with Assam accounting for 45% of them.
Guwahati is seeing a retail boom. Says Damodar Mall, director, food strategy, Future Group: “Our overall sales are strong, especially those of snacks, drinks and impulse products. The people here are inclined towards fashion and are brand-focused.” Where shops shut at sunset, they now remain open till 9.30 pm. Says Ramesh Malhotra, a Panasonic dealer in the city: “The purchasing power of people has increased manifold. A trainee today earns around 4,000-5,000 a month, which was unheard of a few years ago.”
Levis Strauss has seven exclusive stores in the North-East, four of which are in Assam, all in Guwahati. Says Vishal Bhalla, senior manager, consumer marketing, Levi Strauss: “We are strongly committed to continuing our focus on the North-East region over the next one year.” Levi Strauss recently said it will open stores in Jorhat, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, North Lakhimpur, Duliajan and towns in lower Assam like Kokrajhar and Bongaigaon.
Café Coffee Day (CCD), which has six cafes in Guwahati, is thinking along the same lines. Says K Ramakrishnan, president marketing, Café Coffee Day: “The east and the North-East are currently showing the highest growth in value terms. We are looking to expand more.” So are Vishal Megamart and Pantaloon Retail.
Naturally, land prices have zoomed. Says Rajesh Himatsingka, a well-known local businessman: “The price of one cottah (720 sq ft) of land in Beltola, a residential area in south Guwahati, has increased from 15 lakh a year ago to 55 lakh now.” Such appreciation has drawn Mr Himatsingka to real estate. He is setting up a 246-apartment complex in Guwahati in collaboration with the Kolkata-based Eden Group. Elsewhere, Infinity Group is partnering BH Group for its Signature Estates at Ulubari and Infinity Heights at Kalapahar. Says Mr Himatsingka: “The real estate revolution has taken off in Guwahati. It’s now spreading to adjoining areas.”
However, big projects are still few and far between. There’s the Brahmaputra gas cracker plant in Dibrugarh, a 5,500-crore joint venture between GAIL, Assam and two other PSUs. There’s NTPC’s 700 mw power plant in Bongaigaon. In the next five to six years, the infrastructure sector in the state is projected to draw an investment of 50,000 crore under the Special Accelerated Road Development Programme for the North-East. This should create opportunities for locals to become suppliers and contractors.
Ravi Capoor, Assam industries and commerce commissioner & secretary, says the stage is being set for big-ticket investments. “There’s a lot of activity taking place in the small- and medium-scale sector,” he says. “Between May 24 and July 8, 799 industrial enterpreneurs memorandum (IEM) for an investment of 165 crore have been filed. Two breweries with an investment of 400 crore each have also submitted proposals.” One of those is NB Distilleries & Breweries.
RJ Corp, PepsiCo India’s largest bottler, has said it will invest 100 crore in the state on a new bottling plant over the next three to five years. “There are many such (investments) in the pipeline,” says Mr Capoor.
Even upper Assam, which was the worst hit by insurgency, is on the radar. The region comprises key districts like Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Shivsagar and Jorhat. It has oil refineries, quality tea plantations, and rich deposits of coal, oil & natural gas.
Assam seems to have learnt from West Bengal. It has consciously stayed away from land acquisition. “Singur was an eye opener,” says Mr Capoor. “We, therefore, decided to buy land from farmers at the market rate. We also asked promoters to negotiate directly with farmers.”
Educational institutes are also springing up. Institutes in the works include the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology in Jorhat, National Institute of Design in Jorhat, National Institute of Packaging in Guwahati, National Institute of Fashion Technology in Guwahati, Tata Hotel Management Institute in Guwahati and Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Guwahati. Pradyumna Vyas, director, NID, says Assam and the entire North-East is rich in culture. “We are setting up the NID in Jorhat as part of the National Design Policy. It will emerge as the design hub for eastern India,” he says.
In rural areas, self-help groups are slowly changing the face of the rural economy,” says Abhijit Barooah, an IIT-Delhi alumnus and managing director of Premier Cryogenics, a 25-crore company that started making industrial gas in 1988 in Upper Assam’s Sivsagar district.
Professor Sanjib Kakoty of IIM-Shillong feels Assam’s economic development is closely linked to that of West Bengal. Bengal is the gateway to the north-eastern states. Units in Bengal find a ready market in the North-East. If investors sense there is a market in the North-East, they venture there. Says Mr Kakoty: “There should be a holistic approach by all north-eastern states, along with West Bengal, to develop this part of the country.” If the peace holds in Assam, that might happen.