Come Rongali Bihu and a charade is played out in this State that really fools nobody. Enforcement squads swing into action to seize imported gamosas made in powerlooms. A hue and cry is raised in media, government officials issue warnings, and then nothing. This has been repeated ad useam for years on end, and this year was no different. On the eve of Rongali Bihu, raids were carried out at Guwahati city’s business heart Fancy Bazar and some other areas, and hundreds of imported gamosas were seized from busy showrooms. There is a law which mandates that the gamosa is a ‘reserved article’ that must be woven exclusively in handlooms. Under Handlooms (Reservation of Articles for Production) Act, 1985, trade licenses of violators can be cancelled and they can be jailed. But that does not deter traders here from sourcing powerloom-made gamosas from states like Tamil du, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. So can we assume that seizure of such gamosas this year made a sizeable dent in this illegal activity during Bihu season? Hardly! Recent media reports quoting sources in All Guwahati Traders Association stated that as much as 60 percent of the gamosas sold this Bihu were of the machine-made variety, which could amount to nearly Rs 100 crore flowing out of the State. And this figure does not include powerloom-made mekhela-chadors and various Bihu accessories. In 2013, local artisans and traders in Sualkuchi fought pitched battles with the police, protesting the sale of Barasi silk as Assam silk, following which the Handloom department had conducted raids on outlets to seize the offending silk items. A silk-producer state like Tamil du too is seized with this problem, with powerloom workers demanding that they be allowed to weave pure silk saris. The difference with Assam is that the administration there is far stricter in protecting the interests of handloom weavers, with the police regularly sealing powerlooms flouting the law.
As for Bihu accessories like gamkharus and artificial floral headgear, most of these are Chi-made. During the Puja season too, Chinese lights and decorative items flood the market here. Police teams conduct raids, and thereafter everything settles down as before. But many traders here are adamant that whether it is cheap machine-made gamosas or Chi-made decorations and accessories, they are actually giving a fair deal to consumers in the State. An ‘imported’ gamosa comes at half the price of a local gamosa, they point out. But many in the trade are silent when questioned about the iron grip some Fancy Bazar traders have over the yarn business; they hike yarn prices at will, and local artisans are completely at their mercy. We have seen very little effective steps from the State administration to rein in such price fixers. Rather, there is the suspicion that these fixers pay liberally to keep corrupt elements in the administration happy and looking the other way. The new rulers in Dispur about to complete one year in government need to introspect about both our producers and consumers. Our local producers in various sectors are simply not producing enough; and what they are producing are not only costlier in most cases, but also wanting in terms of quality or that ‘x-factor’ of capturing the market. So when cash-strapped lower and middle class consumers in the State try to economise with commodities brought in from outside, there can be little grounds for complaint, at least on economic terms. The Economic Survey for Assam for 2016-17 brings out this worrisome picture clearly. Even in terms of feeding its people with nutritious food like fish, meat, eggs and milk, Assam is highly dependent on other states. Every year, around 15,000 tonnes of fish have to be imported to Assam; the State produces barely around 8 percent of its requirement for eggs, 12.5 percent of the meat it needs, and just 35.8 percent of the demand for milk. Our youths need to think about at least one item each can produce — in line with an appeal that Prime Minister rendra Modi once made to the entire country’s youth in his very first Independence Day address. And it is for the Sarbanda Sonowal government to really make an inventory of what this State produces, think hard about creating proper conditions to encourage production, and prod the banks and fincing agencies more. Skilling our youths for jobs is the right thing to do, but we need to find sizeable numbers of entrepreneurs in our midst and nurture them well.