The government launched the PM Vishwakarma Scheme (PMVS) with a ₹13,000-crore outlay for five years to improve the quality of life and livelihood of traditional artisans and craftsmen, and help them to link with global value chains.

While the scheme aims to preserve inter-generational artisanal knowledge and cultural heritage, a few concerns must be resolved. Will it mainstream the traditional artisans/craftsmen? Will it boost the sectoral contribution to gross value added? How can the scheme make the clusters sustainable social enterprises?

The Vishwakarma scheme may overcome the shortcomings of grant-based support of the Ministry of MSME and the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship to functional clusters. For example, the Ministry of MSME-sponsored study identified procedural and structural issues of several grant-based schemes hindering the timely release of funds by the nodal agencies and access to such funds by the implementing agencies of clusters.

There is hardly any performance audit conducted on the periodic progress of functional clusters concerning fund utilisation and product, process and functional upgrading. Further, there is barely any ‘sustainability impact’ assessment for clusters that could capture the intervention impact on artisans’ livelihood and well-being.

The Vishwakarma scheme can promote scaling-up, upgradation or modernisation, and formalising artisanal businesses with provisions of basic or advanced and concessional phase-wise financing up to ₹3 lakh. It encompasses digital registration conferring artisans with Vishwakarma certificates and identity cards, skill upgradation of artisans by imparting training with a stipend of ₹500 a day, toolkit incentive of ₹15,000 after basic training, and digital transaction incentives.

The marketing support includes quality certification, brand building support, on-boarding e-commerce platforms such as ONDC, QIC, GeM, Khadi India, and MSME Mart, and linking the beneficiaries with traders and export promotion councils.

Policy suggestions

Realising these earnest objectives entails integrating learnings from the Ministry of MSMEs’ artisanal support programmes and designing complementary and converging interventions.

First, training and market intelligence dissemination come to the fore. Target-driven artisanal support interventions remain silent to product differentiation and market suitability. Also, artisans’ deficient managerial and entrepreneurial skills pose formidable challenges to their upliftment. The scheme should facilitate the dissemination of real-time market intelligence and informatics of consumer preferences. Instead of one-time training, mechanisms providing regular skill upgradation seem essential.

The second is certification and branding. The proposed online certification and branding should sort out some feasibility issues, such as adherence to standards, inspection, certification, branding approach, and trade-off between costs and uniqueness.

Barring a few exceptions, such as AMUL and Lijjat, successful branding instances benefiting producers of lower socio-economic segments are sporadic. The scheme must formulate a feasible branding strategy to promote the differentiation and premiumisation of Vishwakarmas’ products.

Third is utilising e-commerce platforms. While leveraging digital technologies to enhance market choices is the need of the hour, small-scale, limited cognitive, and marketplace skills of individual artisans can derail their on-boarding and functioning on digital platforms

.The scheme can, thus, consider the collectivisation of Vishwakarma and legalisation of raw material banks, toolkits procurement, and leverage the services of techno-economic intermediaries for their successful on-boarding.

Fourth is market participation and negotiation. The lack of familiarity, clarity, and certainty about public support programmes and the inability to access germane connections can lead to significant participation barriers for Vishwakarma.

And fifth, creating an authentic database of beneficiaries and devising mechanisms for social audit and grievance redress is necessary.

Kumar teaches at IIM Calcutta, and Dey teaches at IIM Lucknow. Views are personal