GUWAHATI, Feb 15 - The state of affairs at the leather unit of Assam Khadi & Village Industries Board can be gauged from just one astounding fact – the unit at present has just one permanent staff.
Inability to procure raw materials and shortage of skilled artisans, coupled with government neglect, have pushed the unit to its present pathetic state.
The unit has not been able to keep pace with the technological advances and changing fashion.
In 2014-15, the production figures of the unit stood at Rs 3.07 lakh and sales amounted to Rs 3.44 lakh (inclusive of previous year’s stock). The following year, production came down to Rs 1.60 lakh, and the sales were a meagre Rs 65,000. In the first six months of this financial year, the production was worth Rs 1.94 lakh.
“The production depends on the orders. Given the shortage of staff, we only make shoes as per the orders. There is no facility to store the leather goods which get damaged if not preserved. You have seen how shoes in reputed brands are stored after multiple layers of packaging to prevent contact with moisture. Moreover, there is no exclusive sales counter. The shoes are kept at the 45 Khadi bhandars spread across the State, which too have limited space. Some of the bhandars only keep dress materials,” said a Board official.
“Till a few years back, we had recorded good sales. But they have come down drastically now,” the official admitted.
The unit deploys two workers on contract basis to meet the orders. There is also a casual employee at the unit. All the leather items at the unit are handmade and no modern machines have been procured as yet.
Most of the orders are from defence establishments and Central Government offices like CPWD, Silk Board, etc. The shoes are procured from the Khadi Board unit for lower grade staff in these establishments. There are two/ three suppliers in Guwahati who provide the leather, mostly brought from Kolkata, to the unit.
“There is a shortage of skilled cobblers as well. The old traditional cobblers were good hands. We don’t get such people now. They are shifting to other lucrative vocations. About a decade back, we used to send workers for training outside the State. That has also stopped now. The couple of persons who are deployed on contract basis have their own workshops in the city,” the official told The Assam Tribune.
The Khadi Board conducts two-month courses in the trade, but it admits that the duration is not enough to train people, given the competition in the market.
“Besides skilled persons, we also need designers. What we do now is that when we see a new design in the market, we try to replicate it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” he said.
The cost of leather is also going up, and it is having a cascading effect on the fifty-year-old unit.