Imphal East Handloom Cluster, Manipur
Manipur enjoys a distinct place amongst the handloom zones in India. The Handloom Industry is the largest cottage industry in the State and this industry has been flourishing since time immemorial. The art of weaving has developed more in Manipur as compared to any other part of India, but unlike weaving in other parts of India, weaving in Manipur is entirely the work of women. Weaving is a part of their domestic duties and the ability to weave, in fact, is a primary qualification of a 'Meitei' woman. This Handloom Industry is practically monopolized by women not only because of economic necessity but also because of social custom. The Imphal East Handloom cluster is a natural cluster and it owes it origin to the inherent need of the people of Manipur to clothe themselves.
Under the Integrated Handloom Cluster Development Programme (IHCDP), an initiative of the Office of DC Handloom, Ministry of Textiles, GOI, the cluster approach was proposed to facilitate development of handloom weavers located in the identified clusters into cohesive, self managing and competitive socio-economic units so as to enable them develop the capacity to meet challenges of global competition. Twenty handloom clusters were identified across the country and different agencies got involved in the implementation of the clusters. The Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship (IIE) being one of the pioneers in the North Eastern Region working for the growth of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), got the opportunity to become the Implementing Agency for the Imphal East Handloom Cluster.
The initiatives in the cluster which started with a diagnostic study revealed that the Imphal East district has the highest concentration of weavers. 1 Out of the 3, 39,632 of weavers in Manipur, a total of 91,820 weavers are located in Imphal East district itself. The advantage of the cluster is the presence of skilled and expert weavers, and the proximity to the market. The well known all women market, locally called 'Ima Bazar', is at a distance of 3 km from the centre of the cluster.
Through the diagnostic study, a SWOT analysis and analysis of business operation of the cluster was made. This helped in drawing up an action plan for intervention. The action plan was validated by the National Resource Agency appointed by the Office of the DC Handloom and accordingly annual targets both physical and financial were set.
Apart from creating awareness amongst the weavers to work in a group, the interventions initially addressed the following problems:
- Non availability of quality yarn and fluctuation in yarn price
- The use of outdated dyeing techniques
- Financial constraints and lack of working capital
- Lack of product diversification and value addition
The cluster was formally inaugurated in 2007. The inaugural meeting was attended by various stakeholders of the cluster including master weavers, artisans, representatives of the handloom department, financial institutions and local designers. The initial challenge was to explain the concept of cluster which was not only new to the various stakeholders but also to the representatives of the implementing agency. The bigger challenge, however, was the communication barrier, as most of the stakeholders could neither understand Hindi nor English. As far as the Implementing Agency is concerned, the CDA (Cluster Development Agent), who is from Manipur became the via media for any dialogue with the stakeholders. There were around seven masterweavers and out of them only one, Ms. Bimolota Devi, could speak Hindi. Ever since, she has been playing a vital role in the cluster right from the Implementing Agency's entry to exit from the cluster. After an initial understanding of the constraints and opportunities in the cluster, a vision for the cluster was drawn up at the initial stage of adopting the cluster.