August 24, 2023

Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the Vishwakarma scheme can have a tangible effect. We also look at the Student Police Cadet scheme in Punjab, among other news.


Will the Vishwakarma scheme have a tangible effect?

One of the things India is known for is its rich history of traditional arts and crafts. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, engaging with Indian handicrafts is almost a guarantee at some point. People want to have a piece of that tradition, either to wear with traditional clothes or to adorn their personal spaces with.

Given their importance for livelihoods and the economy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Vishwakarma scheme during his recent Independence Day address. With a financial outlay of ₹13,000 crore, it targets traditional weavers, goldsmiths, blacksmiths, etc. There’s a political wrinkle to it, with the Other Backward Class (OBC) community at the crux of the scheme. Will it have a tangible impact on the ground?


For decades, the handloom and handicraft industry has been the backbone of India’s rural economy. After agriculture, it’s one of the largest employment generators. In many ways, it’s a self-sustaining business model. Craftspersons can grow their own raw materials and have all the tools necessary.

Gauging how many people are involved in traditional arts and crafts in India is a tough ask. Some estimates put the number at about 7 million. The 2011 census revealed over 68 lakh artisans, of which 55% were women. There’s a reason for this. The sector is informal and unorganised. There hasn’t been a comprehensive nationwide survey to show how many there are.

When it comes to the art forms, the numbers run into the hundreds, if not thousands. Every state has its own flavour, techniques, history, and products. Each passed down through the generations, standing the test of time.

Economically speaking, the sector is essential and has had its share of ups and downs. In many ways, the sector often reflects the economic mood of the country, indeed the world. The products of skilled artisans aren’t just desired by us desis, they’re sought after by people worldwide. That’s why exports come into the picture.

In the late 2000s, when the global economy was on shaky ground, exports of Indian handicrafts declined by 54% in 2008. Given the informal nature of the sector, many small firms had to shut shop, leaving thousands without work. As more people began to see their historical and financial value, the sector has seen a resurgence of sorts in the past decade. In 2019-20, handicraft exports were valued at $3.5 billion.

Still, India’s contribution to the global handicraft industry is only about 2%. China is at 30%. According to the NGO Dasra, the number of artisans dwindled over time due to a shortage of funds, poor infrastructure, and a lack of market access. When GST was introduced, the sector took a hit. It ate into the already minimal profits artisans made. The pandemic increased the prices of raw materials. With high inflation came the need for artisans to pay a higher nominal wage to their supporting unskilled workers.

Over the years, the government has taken notice. They’ve realised the importance of traditional arts and crafts. This isn’t only for the economy but to preserve Indian history and culture. The Ambedkar Hastshilp Vikas Yojana, in partnership with Dastkar Sashaktikaran Yojana, supports artisans within infrastructure and technology. The Handicrafts Mega Cluster Mission (HMCM) helps in upskilling and development. The goal is to generate employment by scaling up infrastructure and focusing on remote areas.

The latest is the Vishwakarma scheme. Among its components is credit support of up to ₹1 lakh in the initial phase, along with recognition through a PM Vishwakarma certificate and an ID card. They’ll also get ₹15,000 to pay for the tools they need.

VIEW: Clever, much-needed and effective

The intention of the initiative needs to be applauded. Ultimately, it’s about helping the economic condition of artisans across India by ensuring they have the money, skills, and tools necessary to showcase their talent and products. According to the Centre, it’ll benefit 30 lakh artisan families. It covers a wide variety of trades, from carpenters, potters, and sculptors, to traditional toy makers. In all, there are dozens of craft and artisan-based activities.

There’s been a lot of talk of India shedding its colonial past recently. The antithesis of any colonial hangover is to boost India’s traditional artisans and craftspersons. Much of India’s historical traditions have survived thanks to this sector, which previously hasn’t gotten attention and due recognition, particularly from what many people would call the intellectual class. There’s also a lot to learn from the sector concerning sustainability – making the most with little.

The targeted audience of the scheme needs to be highlighted. Most of the over 68 lakh artisans in the country belong to socially and economically disadvantaged sections like Scheduled Tribes (STs), Scheduled Castes (SCs), and Other Backward Classes (OBC). From a social justice point of view, there’s a clear intention from the government. As the 2024 elections loom large over the political landscape, the government wants to consolidate caste support as part of its electoral coalition. The name itself, Vishwakarma, is named after the presiding deity seen by many of the smaller castes as the son of Brahma.

COUNTERVIEW: Much to be desired

The numbers and coverage concerning the scheme are well and good. However, the scheme’s success will depend on how well it’s implemented on the ground. The scope seems somewhat limited. The issues faced by artisans and craftspersons are more than just access to cheap credit. The scheme doesn’t really tackle two deeper challenges. First, patronage for these goods isn’t consistent. Second, their economic output is often undervalued. Unless the economic viability issue is solved, no government scheme will achieve success in the long run.

The products that are made need widespread market access, not just to existing but also to new ones. Just extending loans to these communities in the name of welfare could leave these communities in a debt trap. That would pass on to generations to come. Over the years, several schemes with similar good intentions have been announced and implemented but have seldom achieved the desired outcomes. Overbearing bureaucracy and rent-seeking meant the recipients were denied the benefits.

On the politics of it all, it’s an obvious ploy by the BJP government to get OBC support. However, concerning caste politics, the BJP is hardly the torch bearer. For example, the BJP isn’t too thrilled about a caste survey in Bihar. In Rajasthan, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has gone the reservation route with a 6% additional quota for OBCs. At the national level, while the government has announced the Vishwakarma scheme aimed at OBCs, they’ve not budged on demands for a national caste census.

Reference Links:

  • Voyage through Indian handicraft – The Statesman
  • India’s Handicraft crafts: A sector gaining momentum – India Brand Equity Foundation
  • What the artisans and the handicrafts sector want from the new government – YourStory
  • A lifeline for artisans – Businessline
  • Decolonisation in Action: Bharatiya Nyaya Samhita and Vishwakarma Scheme – Organiser
  • Noble intentions: On the PM Vishwakarma scheme for traditional workers – The Hindu
  • Modi’s ‘Vishwakarma Mission’ vs Gehlot’s OBC Quota: Battle for the OBC Vote – The Quint

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) The Vishwakarma scheme will have a tangible effect.

b) The Vishwakarma scheme won’t have a tangible effect.


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Student Police Cadet scheme (Punjab) – Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann introduced the ‘Student Police Cadet’ (SPC) program to acquaint students with police operations. Starting this academic year, the two-year curriculum, designed by the Bureau of Police Research and Development, will be taught to 8th graders. Around 11,200 students from 280 government schools are enrolled, with the same group continuing in 9th grade next year.

Why it matters: The government has allocated ₹50,000 per year to each school for the comprehensive ‘Student Police Cadet’ scheme, set to cover all districts. This effort aims to involve students actively in governance and security. The program entails visiting police stations, cyber cells, and more, enlightening them on crime trends, cybercrime, road safety, drug abuse, and more.

Escalera exposition (Kerala) – The ‘Escalera’ Women Entrepreneurs and Innovators Expo at Kozhikode Beach is drawing a diverse crowd. The event offers live art sessions, showcasing handicrafts like bamboo bags, jute bags, and traditional Kerala crafts. Innovative Onam fashion and handmade jewellery stalls are popular. Food stalls, especially the Kudumbashree food court, are the main highlights, offering banana chips, pickles, and more.

Why it matters: In the face of stares and whispers, Aruvi, a determined transwoman, thrives. Handling sales for a direct marketing firm, she’s carved her place despite challenges. Grateful for her employer’s trust, Aruvi aspires to inspire fellow transwomen by excelling in a different field. The expo features notable stalls, including one offering bows and arrows crafted by Rajasthan artisans who aid customers in trying them out.

Anti-ragging helpline (West Bengal) – Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister, introduced a 24×7 toll-free anti-ragging helpline, 1800 345 5678, accessible across Bengal. Managed by Kolkata police from Lalbazar, the helpline assures confidentiality for complainants. Individuals can report ragging from anywhere; prompt police response is guaranteed. Institutions will be investigated by an anti-ragging committee, ensuring anonymity for informants.

Why it matters: Following the tragic death of a 17-year-old Jadavpur University student allegedly due to ragging, Banerjee launched the state-wide anti-ragging helpline. The incident was a catalyst for this action, she said in a speech. Mamata emphasised the importance of being humane over academic achievements, urging people to protest and complain against ragging, assuring support.

Successful RTE admissions (Maharashtra) – For the 2023-24 academic year, over 90% of seats designated for economically weaker students via the Right to Education (RTE) Act in private primary schools in Pune were taken after admissions ended on Monday. Of 15,596 available slots, 14,154 entries have been secured, leaving 1,442 seats vacant. Pune leads all Maharashtra districts in filling RTE vacancies.

Why it matters: Thane, Nagpur, and Mumbai are trailing in RTE admissions, per official data. Maharashtra had 3.65 lakh applications for 1.01 lakh RTE reserved seats; over 80% (82,908) of seats have been confirmed. Deputy RTE officer Momin Asma Begum Imdoddin noted that more admissions occurred due to increased school participation. The online admission process faced document-related challenges, which were resolved. In Pune, out of 77,531 applications, 22,523 selections were made.

Resolution against Forest Act (Mizoram) – The assembly unanimously passed a resolution opposing the recently enacted Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act, 2023, citing the need to safeguard the state’s people and their rights. Despite previous efforts to express concerns about the Act’s impact on the environment and citizens’ well-being, State Environment Minister TJ Lalnuntluanga said the Centre was apathetic.

Why it matters: Lalnuntluanga, who introduced the resolution, highlighted the state’s longstanding opposition to the forest amendment bill, dating back to its initial proposal. They notified the Centre on October 21, 2021, about their objections. The state forest department also reached out to the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on June 6. Despite 1,309 protest letters, the JPC and both houses of Parliament approved the bill.


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