A policy document is one that charts out the path and outlines the goals for a sector or an industry. In that, the Indian textiles and apparel industry has been waiting with bated breath for the National Textiles Policy (NTP) that will hopefully be announced in less than three months from now. The current 2000 policy is hopelessly outdated, given three major international developments: the phase-out of the Multi Fibre Agreement (MFA), the emergence of China in global trade particularly in the field of textiles and apparel, and the 2008 global financial crisis. The world has changed considerably since 2000. Automation is in, printing has gone digital and e-commerce has changed the way money is made in the 21st century. As the ministry of textiles works overtime to draft the NTP, Subir Ghosh does a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of a few select sectors and aspects of the Indian textiles and apparel industry. The elements are not in any order of preference, and covering all angles would be beyond the scope of this article.
The sheer expanse of the textiles and apparel industry can be extremely overwhelming for the uninitiated eye. The value chain of this industry is possibly the longest, and its Indian avatar is crucial not just to the country's political economy, but has a bearing on its socio-cultural fabric too. From the unorganised handloom sector to the capital-intensive retail outlets, and from decentralised powerlooms to state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, the Indian textiles and apparel sector cuts across traditional agriculture and conventional industry. The textiles-apparel industry contributes a tenth to the country's manufacturing production, and no Union Budget can alone meet all, or even most, demands of this industry. It needs a straightjacket, proper policy framework. For the same reason, the ₹6,000 crore package for the industry could only have been a short-term fire-fighting measure.
From farming to spinning and from fabrics to retail, this is an industry where often the left hand does not know what the right is doing. Most segments of the industry exist, for all good reason, in either their own silos or comfort zones. Moreover, the length and spread of the industry is so huge that it is actually not possible for most people from one segment to have the faintest clue about what another segment is all about. Establishing such linkages and codifying them in stone is the responsibility of a policy. And for an industry that is forever in flux either because of technological advancements or international developments that disrupt global trade or what have you, the need for a National Textiles Policy (NTP) becomes all the more dire.
But it is easier said than done. Any NTP that replaces the hopelessly-outdated one of 2000 will not just have to maintain a balancing act among planet, people and profit, it will have to be a jigsaw puzzle that has been solved for good and is future-proof. A policy after all cannot be a mere status report about a sector of the economy; it needs to ascertain the future and chart out a path towards it. It was for this reason, among many others, that the 2000 policy looks not just jaded, but embarrassingly anachronistic. Even though the Multi Fibre Agreement (MFA) was already on its way out at the time, the policy had failed to guide industry out. Even though China was just about making its debut in world trade, the policy had failed to foresee how that country would go on to dominate textiles-apparel. Even though the Internet was well in at that time, the policy had failed to understand how e-commerce would eventually rule in spite of the Dotcom Doom. Of course, it is a different thing that few had expected the 2008 financial crisis to knock the winds off the global economy's sails. But then, that is also what a policy is expected to do: without a Plan B as backup, a Plan A might well only be worth the paper that it is essentially printed on.