KVIC performance shows India is cheering for khadi 

Representative image. (DH Photo)

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi characterised khadi as the ‘fabric of Indian Independence’. But this symbol of mass resistance to the British empire seems to have travelled a long way since Gandhi’s days. It is now sported by many high-flying politicians, celebrities and film stars. There is even ‘designer’ khadi that costs far more than regular cotton fabric. So, has khadi finally become disconnected from the masses and become the fabric of the rich and the famous?

It would be simplistic to make this claim although there is an attempt by the fashion industry to cash in on what appears to be a broad-based revival of khadi among different income groups.

According to Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) Chairman, V K Saxena, it would be wrong to think of khadi as a costly fabric. “It is available from Rs 100 a metre to Rs 5,000 a metre. It is affordable and, if you don’t believe me, refer to our production and sales figures,” he says. What is more, Saxena holds that the fabric is popular with the youth.

Growing sales

The textile is enjoying its moment in the sun. Sales of khadi textile from KVIC has jumped more than three times from Rs 867 crore in 2010-11 to Rs 3,215 crore in 2018-19. At a time when consumption is tapering, KVIC appears confident of increasing its sales by 50% to nearly Rs 5,000 crore in 2019-20. 

The growth of khadi cloth has shot up since 2014-15. Is this connected with the Narendra Modi government’s move to popularise khadi? Production figures do suggest this. In 2014-15, khadi yarn production was 103.26 million square metres. By 2018-19, the output increased to 170.58 million square meters. The share of khadi in India’s total textile production too more than doubled – from 4.11% in 2014-15 to 8.49% in 2018-19.

According to Saxena, one reason for the growth is strong brand promotion. Linking khadi with e-commerce has also helped. Artisans can register themselves online, sell their products and get direct payment in their accounts.

Set up in 1957, KVIC has 8,060 stores selling khadi and village industry products. The number of outlets has increased by 400 in the last five years. Together with the Village Industries wing, it has employed 14.7 million people across the country as of 2018-2019. 

Saxena was hand-picked by Modi to turn around KVIC’s fate. He took over as chairman of KVIC in 2015, before which he was chairman of the Dholera Port Project in Gujarat from 2012 onwards.

On every birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, KVIC puts up a sale for around 40 days. This year, on the 150th birth anniversary, even the village industry products will be put on sale. These include tea, oils of different kinds, handmade soaps, eatables and other item of daily use.

After the Centre’s decision to stop import of agarbatti (incense sticks) import from China and Vietnam by which India was losing over Rs 500 crore of revenues, the KVIC is planning to set up a cluster unit for production of agarbattis near Kolar Gold Fields in Karnataka. It would commence production by January next year, Saxena told DH. He said the project will give employment to 1,000 rural women to begin with.

What is plaguing khadi the most is the presence of middlemen, who often act as a link between weavers and retailers. The hand-weaved yarn usually travels to the urban markets through these people, who take advantage of uneducated or semi-educated rural artisans.

According to Poonam Vasan, a Delhi-based designer, who makes sure khadi represents at least 40% of her store sales, it is the middleman, who jacks up the price of khadi. But Saxena says he has tried to clamp down on such corrupt practices through starting e-registration of artisans.

Though Khadi has yet not tried to tie-up with e-commerce portals such as Amazon and Flipkart, it boasts at least 25% of its sales growth is due to the youth of India.

Khadi products are also exported, albeit in a small quantity and it is done under the banner of goods produced by small and medium industry. KVIC has now approached the government to give the industry a separate HS Code to start its own exports.

HS Code is a classification code assigned to each imported or exported item according to the product type. These numerical codes are used by countries worldwide for statistic-gathering purposes. They also determine which tariffs, if any, will be applied to the product. Additionally, foreign trade regulations require exporters to include the correct classification code on export documentation.

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