In India’s city of silk sarees, rising prices pose risk to nascent recovery By Reuters


© Reuters. A weaver works on an influence loom in Varanasi within the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India, September 22, 2021. Image taken September 22, 2021. REUTERS/Manoj Kumar


By Manoj Kumar

VARANASI, India (Reuters) – Within the slender lanes of the Hindu pilgrimage metropolis of Varanasi, the centre of a famed silk-weaving business, there’s little signal of the nascent financial restoration trumpeted by India’s policymakers.

Gross sales of the closely brocaded silk sarees made within the historic metropolis on the river Ganges are presently down 70% from the pre-pandemic interval, locals say. Many weavers have shut down their looms, others have bought them and a few employees have pulled their kids out of college, unable to afford the charges.

“Costs are sky-rocketing and I’m unable to get even one-third of what I used to earn earlier than the pandemic,” mentioned Mohammad Kasim, a weaver who has bought two of his 16 looms.

A surge in world costs of petrol, diesel, cooking gasoline and different commodities like metal and is hurting thousands and thousands of Indian households and companies, already affected by the pandemic.

India meets 80% of its oil wants by imports, and the federal government imposes greater than 100% tax on gasoline merchandise like petrol and diesel. Customers and companies find yourself shelling out greater gasoline and transport charges in comparison with different rising economies.

Along with this, the autumn in shopper incomes after the outbreak of the pandemic early final yr are threatening demand for price-elastic items.

Brocaded with gold, silver and copper, the heavy Banarasi silk sarees made in Varanasi, which can also be known as Benaras, are bought throughout India and abroad for ladies to put on at weddings and particular events.

Weavers say they’re battling shrinking demand because the costly sarees they make are substituted with cheaper varieties, in addition to the excessive costs of uncooked silk and brocade.

Costs of uncooked silk have gone as much as 4,500 rupees ($61) a kg from 3,500 rupees within the final 4 months, Kasim mentioned, whereas brocade materials like copper and silver has grew to become costlier by 40% – leaving revenue margins in saree making to beneath 10%.

Kasim is amongst thousands and thousands of Indians in small manufacturing and providers – which account for 90% of jobs – who’re complaining of a double whammy of excessive costs and weak demand.

Retail inflation has breached the central financial institution’s higher restrict of 6% year-on-year a few instances this yr though in August it eased to five.3%.

That poses a threat to the nascent restoration in Asia’s third largest economic system after the worst-ever contraction of seven.3% within the final fiscal yr ending in March.

The economic system grew an annual 20.1 % within the April-June quarter, and the federal government’s chief financial adviser, Ok.V. Subramanian, mentioned: “India is poised for stronger development”.

However N.R. Bhanumurthy, vice-chancellor of Bengaluru Ambedkar Faculty of Economics College, mentioned inflationary pressures pushed up by world provide chain points and sluggish home demand would doubtless have a long-term impression on Indian manufacturing.

“With the rising threat of excessive inflation within the quick time period and big unemployment in current previous, I do not see prospects of an entire restoration quickly,” he mentioned.


Wholesale price-based inflation, a proxy of producers’ costs, rose in double-digits for the fifth month in a row to 11.4% in August year-on-year, stoking considerations firms might cross on rising prices to customers.

Not like some superior economies, the place governments have supplied large stimulus packages, India’s pandemic reduction targeted on credit score ensures on financial institution loans and free meals grain to poor.

Rajan Behal, basic secretary of the Varanasi fabric retailers’ affiliation, a physique of about 800 wholesale merchants, mentioned most companies have been reluctant to tackle new financial institution loans despite the fact that the federal government has promised to face assure.

“We’d have fortunately mortgaged our properties for loans if there was shopper demand,” he informed Reuters.

The hand-loom and energy loom saree manufacturing business, using 1.5 million folks in Varanasi and surrounding cities with an annual enterprise of 700 billion rupees a yr, is going through an “undeclared disaster,” he mentioned.

Mohammad Siraj, 45, an influence loom employee, mentioned his household was surviving on free foodgrains – supplied by the federal authorities to two-thirds of the 1.3 billion inhabitants as pandemic reduction. Nonetheless family prices have been excessive.

“I’ve taken my daughters out of college as a result of I can’t afford the charges anymore,” Siraj mentioned.

Merchants in Varanasi, which can also be a serious Hindu pilgrimage vacation spot, at the moment are praying for a choose up in vacationer inflows and garment demand through the pageant and marriage season beginning this month.

“We’re dipping into our life financial savings or taking up debt to outlive,” mentioned Rahul Mehta, president of the native Tourism Welfare Affiliation, a commerce physique of about 100 institutions.

He mentioned earnings from about 6.5 million annual vacationer inflows, estimated at 50 billion rupees in 2019/20 earlier than the pandemic, might revive to 10-15 billion rupees this fiscal yr if there was no surge in virus instances.

However any projections of a rise in demand are hostage to the worth rise.

“We’d have survived the coronavirus however we is not going to in a position to bear the burden of rising costs and fall in demand,” Mehta mentioned, including if tourism inflows and demand for sarees didn’t revive within the pageant season, hundreds of saree makers and distributors must shut store completely.

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