The story of textiles in India weaves a history of independence and culture and is a key pillar of livelihood in the country.
Viscose, a man-made fibre witnessing global demand growth, is a new addition to India’s textile story. It is a biodegradable fibre and an alternative to silk and cotton. Viscose is ‘poor people’s silk’ because it is cheaper but with similar properties.
It is not just the ‘poor’ consumers but also the weavers of the fabric, who have found a new source of livelihood with the production of viscose. Due to a rise in the price of natural fibres such as cotton, many weavers shifted to producing viscose or blended viscose fabric. Indian textile sector is still cotton dominated, which has limitations in supply. Cotton acreage cannot be increased as food is a priority. Hence, viscose blended cotton is being widely adopted as a viable alternative.
Viscose has given new hopes to the Indian weavers. Viscose fibre consumption is witnessing a steady rise, where the market grew from 542 KT (Thousand tons) in 2021 to 744 KT in 2022, a robust 37 per cent growth. This was only possible as Indian textile value chain could access Viscose fibre at internationally competitive prices. Overall, viscose holds 16.5 per cent of the man-made fibre market in India. Other than being a cheaper alternative, versatility in design and application also contributes to its demand.
However, apart from helping weavers, it is also essential to ensure safeguards which are not protective but conducive in nature.One issue plaguing the viscose value chain is the limited raw material supply of Viscose Staple Fibre (VSF).
India has a limited number of players involved in manufacturing VSF, with one major company contributing to over 90 per cent of the supply. As a result, many weavers rely on imported fibre. It provides new alternatives to these weavers so that they can survive in the market and be competitive.
An upcoming development that can be detrimental to the weavers of viscose is the anti-dumping duty imposition on VSF imports. The imposition of this duty will make the procurement of the fibre much more challenging and all the more expensive for the weavers. Anti-dumping duty on VSF was first introduced in 2010 and continued till 2021. It was removed only after the entire industry repeatedly appealed after suffering for over 11 years. Former Textiles Minister Smriti Irani, herself had supported the removal of duties.
Re-introduction of anti-dumping duty will now impact many weaving hubs in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Gujarat. This is an issue affecting production capacities and the lives of 4.5 crore people employed in the textile industry. With Tamil Nadu alone accounting for 75 per cent of India’s man-made cellulose yarn production, this duty can significantly hamper the State’s growth and endanger the livelihood of the 31 lakh rural textile workers in the State.
The duty will also impact the entire value chain of the fabric, as the procurement of the fibre, which is the heart of the value chain, will be hit.
Viscose is also the fabric of future. It is widely used in upcoming subsectors in the textile industry, such as technical textiles and medical textiles. Most importantly, viscose is a sustainable choice due to its biodegradable properties.
Hence, the answer to India’s growing market for viscose is not an anti-dumping duty. Instead, we need emancipatory measures which ensure that weavers can procure required raw materials with equal levels of accessibility. This can only be ensured if there is free competition in the market. We need to build a level-playing field in the sector so that pricing stays equal regardless of where a weaver buys their fibre from.
Viscose is the new thread to India’s textile story and has already become a major source of livelihood. It is high time that the country’s textile value chain is given the much-needed impetus.
The writer is former Rajya Sabha MP from AP