From many years, the significance of shifting factories or building units in areas where labour is easily available, has been emphasised by industry experts. AR too has propagated the same through its editorials and interviews with companies like Aditya Birla Group, Shahi Exports, Laguna, Pratibha Syntex, that have started factories in remote areas and satellite towns with good results. So far, this development was majorly for organised industry and for overseas markets, mainly to control cost and ensure steady flow of workers.
Now, turning disruption into opportunity, many small units have started to emerge in remote areas of leading labour host states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. And interestingly, these small and medium-size apparel manufacturing units in various districts are majorly for the Indian domestic market. Reverse migration, which took place heavily during the first wave of Covid, motivated and even compelled small entrepreneurs and contractors to start operations in their hometowns and now the biggest hub for sourcing apparel for the domestic market – Gandhi Nagar is receiving apparel supply from these towns. While earlier it was the other way around and these districts were used to source garments for their local needs from Gandhi Nagar and nearby areas.
It is pertinent to mention here that lakhs of workers used to work in various apparel manufacturing hubs of Delhi like Gandhi Nagar, Seelampur, Raghubir Nagar, Shanti Mohalla, Jafrabad, Krishna Nagar and Kailash Nagar etc. An entire range of basic, as well as value-added garments are produced in these areas of Delhi and are supplied to distributors and retailers across India. Thousands of small and medium-size unorganised and semi-organised factories have been operational in these hubs for decades.
However, the severity of the first and second wave of Covid and the lack of work opportunities drove a big chunk of these migratory workers back to their hometowns, never to return. Similarly, thousands of workers from other hubs who went to their home town from garment manufacturing hubs like Ludhiana, Surat and Jaipur, have not come back to these hubs.
Sambalpur, Chandpur, Kath, Muzaffarpur, Meerut, nearby villages of Kanpur, Lucknow, Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh while Bettiah, Chanpatia of West Champaran in Bihar are now having many small units of garment manufacturing where these workers are enthusiastically engaged in garment production. A reasonable number of garments are now coming from these areas to Delhi. The products being manufactured include T-shirts, kidswear, womenwear, tracksuits, jackets and capri, etc.
Most of the funding of these small units are through bank schemes for small entrepreneurs and government initiatives. Some are self-funded by those who have savings or by pooling money, resources and skills gained working in apparel factories in metros for years. Few small units were already operational in these remote areas and have since expanded and increased production, as they too are now witnessing good demand from Delhi. With addition of new apparel manufacturing units starting production, these smaller centres are coming up as viable sourcing destinations, mostly for the domestic market.
Win-win for all
There are various reasons that make these upcoming production areas a win-win for all. Most importantly, workers are happy and more productive as their financial, social and personal life has improved. They can save more money as they live in their own home, unlike Delhi-NCR or other places where they have to pay rent and also buy food (in some cases transportation also). Both of these used to be their biggest overheads while working in Delhi-NCR. At the same time, since they are living with their families, they are able to give spare time to their agriculture profession. Apart from these major benefits and facilities, workers are enjoying their local culture, pollution-free living while spending time with family.
Additionally, the work environment is friendly and in case any worker needs some time/ half day leave for any household activity or for anything else, it’s not a big issue, as was the case when working in metros. Workers share that they have the advantage of flexi-timing, but emphasise that the privilege is only in case of real need. Some of the workers (especially women) are working at their home and earning reasonably. Janki Devi, one such worker shared that she and other workers like her can earn Rs. 200 to Rs. 250 while tailors, working full time are earning around Rs. 12,000-15,000 per month.
At the same time, production in these areas is comparatively cost-effective as right from the rent of factory premises to electricity, wages, and piece rate… everything is less compared to metro cities or established hubs. In most of the product categories, the cost is at least 10 to 15 per cent less. Deshraj Malhotra, a leading player of Gandhi Nagar shares, “We are getting supply from various parts of Uttar Pradesh and it is around 10 per cent cost effective as compared to when we used to produce here locally.” He also shares that many of these firms of Uttar Pradesh are sourcing fabric and trims from Delhi only. “Initially our fellow garment manufacturers of Gandhi Nagar tried to bring workers back, offered them lucrative wages but due to anticipation of the third wave, many of them denied to come back. But now we are also comfortable to have a fair size of production in Delhi and to bring reasonable share from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar,” sums up Kanwal Kumar Bali, a veteran of Gandhi Nagar’s garment industry and President, Delhi Hosiery and Readymade Garment Manufacturers Association.
Majdoor se Maalik (Worker to Owner) with the help of administration
Though the majority of garments made by these workers of remote areas are for the domestic market but few of them are exploring opportunities in export also. In West Champaran, local administration is supporting these workers and has set up a Udyami Mitra Mandal (a kind of start-up zone). Passionate about this initiative and known for his innovative approach, Kundan Kumar, DM, West Champaran in Bihar, tells Apparel Resources (AR), “Currently there are around 700 workers in 54 small and medium units in various areas of West Champaran and we are expecting many more such units to come up. After proper skill mapping, the administration supported these workers to arrange loans under Government schemes and provided space for units by using local godowns as manufacturing premises. Due to strong networking/industry connect, these workers, supervisors, fabricators, contractors/masters and other professionals, themselves created the market for their products.”
These professionals include machine mechanics who used to work with companies like Juki and other technology suppliers. Now they are also working here. Kundan further adds that thousands of garments produced in the area have been shipped to Spain and Qatar. Now these enterprising units are targeting South Africa, as the next market. “Earlier raw material used to come from Surat or Ludhiana but now fabric on powerloom is being prepared locally too. Similarly, printing, multi-head embroidery is also being done here. So far in six to eight months, workers have produced goods of around Rs. 11 crore,” shares Kundan Kumar. This area is also making garments under the brand name of Champaran to create local identity and build a strong recollect value. As these workers are now settled in their home town, it is attracting more workers from established hubs.
Scope for expansion and long-term growth
It is not that the above-mentioned initiatives are just to come out of the financial crisis created by Covid, the effort is to see the scope from a long-term perspective. Few of them have scope to develop into proper manufacturing hubs. Bettiah (Champaran) is a perfect example in this regard. Government support is also there for this region to ensure the growth of the emerging hub. Recently Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar visited this area and assured all help to the workers there. Renu Devi, Deputy CM of the state also said Chanpatia would be developed as a mini-textile hub with improved infrastructure.
For both workers and industry, a good beginning has been made and there is positivity that the efforts will grow in the future and these small but developing hubs will set a good example of how to get commercial results from smaller centres.