The Budget spoke about empowering artisans and craftsmen through the Pradhan Mantri Vishwakarma Kaushal Samman (PM-VIKAS) scheme.

It is expected to help the artisans to improve their products’ quality, scale, and reach by providing financial support, advanced skill training in modern digital techniques, and efficient green technologies and thereby integrating them with local and global markets through the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) value chain linkage. But how effective are these measures?

In pre-independence India, the artisans and craftsmen gained prominence under royal patronage, which dwindled after independence.

Under the new work order, traditional artisans have been marginalised and reduced to earning daily wages. This loss of dignity and social status forced many traditional artisan families to discontinue their craft.

The better-educated younger generation did not find their traditional crafts-making lucrative and sought better job opportunities posing a threat to the survival of traditional crafts in India.

Rising input prices

Another challenge traditional artisans face is the increasing cost of raw materials. Some of the primary metals used by Indian metal craftsmen are iron, copper, brass, tin, and zinc. During the Covid period, metal prices declined due to the lack of demand, especially from the Chinese market. However, post-2020 lockdown, the prices of these metals increased by up to 40 per cent.

This drastic rise in input prices, clubbed with the restrictions imposed by the various governments from time to time in procuring craft materials such as ivory, rosewood, sandalwood, refined river sand, etc., severely hurt the artisans. Also the Gold (Control) Act of 1968 completely sabotaged the livelihood of traditional goldsmiths and led to the rise of big retail jewellers.

The inflationary scenario in the country has forced traditional artisans to pay a higher nominal wage to their supporting unskilled workers, resulting in a higher production cost. However, the demand for handmade products has declined drastically due to the dynamic shift in consumer choice from handmade artisanal products to factory-made ones.

However, modern consumers view artisanal products as luxury goods that one may buy as curios for home décor. Hence, due to the low demand, these craftsmen are not in a position to increase the prices of their products in response to the rising input costs.

Role fo CSR

Providing skill training to traditional artisans or linking them to the MSME value chain could have also been achieved through the help of well-directed Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. The Canara Bank’s KPJ ARTRAP in 1991 and BOSCH’s Bosch Vaahan initiative in 2007, based in Bangalore, are good examples of this.

However, providing skill training will not solve the problems traditional artisans face. Government interventions such as reduced taxes and tariffs are required to reduce the prices of raw materials artisans use in their craft. The government should also consider providing special licenses to the traditional craftsmen to procure raw materials, which are otherwise restricted for environmental and wildlife protection.

Also, the government should try attracting the younger generation from artisanal families to their traditional craftwork by making it more lucrative by including them in public works. It is only through their involvement that the craftsmanship would survive.

There is no question that the PM-VIKAS scheme is a highly appreciable step for the upliftment of traditional artisans and craftsmen. However, considering that providing advanced modern skills, credit support, and global connect will solve the issues faced by traditional artisans and craftsmen will be naive. Their economic problems are far more complex and highly intertwined with India’s social and historical realities.

Chandran is a doctoral scholar and Raj is a Professor at ISEC Bangalore.