Q&A with Ms Roop Rashi, Textile Commissioner of India
Archaeologists opine the existence of cotton cultivation in India dating back 9000 years. No surprise then, that India’s luxury heritage of textiles dates back more than 6000 years. And every region of the Indian sub-continent has its unique ancient tradition of weaves using various types of plant and animal fibres, natural dyes, printing technique, embroideries. Even more impressive is that the ancient skills and techniques still exist, albeit are under pressure. The onus of preserving and enhancing this rich heritage lies with the Government of India’s Ministry of Textiles. Meher Castelino connected with the current Textile Commissioner Ms Roop Rashi, for an exclusive interview for The Luxury Chronicle. We bring you excerpts from the interaction.
By Meher Castelino
Elegantly draped in a silk sari and Khaan choli, Roop Rashi is the perfect choice as Textile Commissioner, Government of India, Ministry of Textiles since June 2020. Part of the 1994 Batch of IA&AS, she has had an illustrious career in the Central Civil Service in important departments, handling important portfolios. As the Textile Commissioner she facilitates the development and growth of Textile Industry by way of creating sustainable and enabling environment for the Textile Enterprise, which is the second largest employment generation sector after Agriculture. In a candid interview exclusively for The Luxury Chronicle, Ms Roop Rashi reveals her plans for the Textiles of India.
Meher Castelino – How do you plan to promote the textiles of India?
Roop Rashi – The office of Textile Commissioner, as the field interface of the Ministry of Textiles provides support to Ministry of Textiles, Government of India for all Textiles and apparel items across fibres and value chain. Our objective is “VASTRA VIKAS”: Vibrant Approach to Sustainable Textiles with Rejuvenation & Automation: Vivid Initiatives to Kindle Apparel Sector. We endeavour to engage constantly with stakeholders across the value chain to bring synergy between policy and programme implementation by bringing stakeholder’s concerns to the Policy seat. The policies and strategic action plans by the Ministry of Textiles, are implemented on PAN India basis.
Our primary focus areas are facilitating access to Raw material; supporting growth of technology and skill development to strengthen value chain for qualitative improvements; and working consistently for Access to Markets ensuring level playing field. We have all the growth drivers for the Textile Industry with Abundance of Raw Material; Presence in Entire Value chain; Large and Growing domestic Market, Rising Per capita income, higher disposable incomes and brand preference; organised retail landscape and e-commerce; increased focus on Technical Textiles due to growth of end user industries.
How difficult or easy is it to create a cluster of weavers?
Clusters are self-developed and not being created. Challenge is more to bring synergy, inclusion and consolidation so that the cluster could benefit. The cluster constituents should be able to run, upgrade their business successfully and value generation is possible/ reinforced constantly.
How important are biodegradable fabrics for India?
Bio-degradable fabrics are important across the world due to largely eco-friendly value chain. However, there is not enough supply to meet the demand. Hence, as other developed countries have started business operations for recycling the textiles and apparel, here also focus is coming on recycling in the interest of sustainability of nature. Strategies of use of biodegradable fibres needs to be combined with recycling opportunities and change of customer focus from Fast Fashion to long term use.
During the pandemic the textile sector was one of the worst hit. However, by end of 2021 there was a major turn around and projections for 300 per cent growth rate. What would you attribute this to? What were the initiatives of Textile ministry that helped such a jump?
The unprecedented Covid crisis helped in strengthening Medical Technical Textiles, which created sufficient and qualitative supplies of PPE and masks for our frontline warriors, as well as exporting to needy countries. We became the second largest producers and the synergised Public Private effort resulted in a Rs 7,000 crore plus industry. During lockdown, the Ministry under the leadership of Hon’ble Prime Minister worked towards simplified processes. The new schemes are targeted to incentivise growth contributing to expansion of domestic market and presence in international market. The liquidity in the market helped various points of value chain in going for higher investments.
India’s heritage of multiple weaves and handlooms is unparalleled in the world. Yet the lot of the weavers is not very rosy. Is there any sustained strategy planned by the Textile Ministry towards this?
The priority accorded to this sector is evident in the mementoes carried by Hon’ble Prime Minister for all International dignitaries, which span the beautiful varieties from our motherland. Handlooms remain a core focus area of support. To ensure the Hank Yarn availability, we still retain regulatory Role. Further our Development Commissioner (Handloom) is engaged in capacity building of handloom weavers. They have created support services and online platforms for increasing their markets access. National Institute of Fashion technology (NIFT) is assisting to convert the fabrics made by the handloom weavers with design solutions for fashion trends, which in turn will increase income. The new generation is being encouraged to help the tradition with new knowledge especially on marketability front.
What can Indian designers do to promote the textiles of India? Are they doing enough?
NIFT and NID are prompting textiles of India constantly. The designers can contribute by ensuring due descriptions/stories and identities be woven in their creations and described while servicing the High value customer.
In 2020, you had reportedly said that it was important to make-in-India the high-tech machinery required by the textile industry, as nearly 75 per cent machinery was imported. Have you been able to make progress in that direction since?
Yes, dialogues with few European Textile Machinery manufactures are already on. Hopefully, we will succeed in this process. We have also proposed schemes at Ministry level to strengthen Make in India. MITRA initiative and PLI initiative will create Demand pull for machinery and machinery manufacturing in India.
Do you think new innovations will help the textile industry? What kind of innovations?
The innovations can be in field of increasing productions, improving manufacturing, cost cutting in manufacturing process, technology development, uses of less water in fabric processing, development of speciality fibres etc. The vast domain of the long Textile Value chain allows scope for improvisation at any point.
What is the future of the khadi and handloom sector in India according to you and how can it be improved to global level and make it known world-wide like Irish linen?
Khadi, our Pride, is handled as a subject by Ministry of MSME. KVIC has done amazing work in the past few years to enhance the potential and create value in the domain with revenues seeing a multi fold jump. I am not directly handling it, hence would leave that to be answered by my colleague spearheading KVIC.
Chinese textiles are flooding the fashion market. How can India compete with them?
Chinese have a cost and volume advantage, which has its own market. In my view, our quality as well as variety is scintillating and instead of comparing with ‘quantity’, we must focus on QUALITY- of goods and Experience, which are long term insurance for sustainability of enterprise. They are still using azo dyes for prints/ fabrics, which are very carcinogenic, hence our traders or garment manufactures should avoid using any Chinese fabrics since it may be harmful for our citizen. As such in various technical textiles we have technical advantage over China.
Is India doing enough to market its textiles globally? What is your stand on this?
For strengthening global access, our hon’ble Union Minister for Textiles has himself taken initiatives and finalised FTA with UAE and Australia and working consistently for FTAs with UK, EUs and Canada. On helping industry to be competitive, raw material access issues are being handled. Support is being given to value addition, as that is core to job creation and support for livelihoods. Investment in Textile machinery is incentivised. Our quality of made-ups are front runners in the biggest consumer markets. Support to Technical Textiles and MMF based textiles will open new wider vistas for Indian enterprise.
Are the traditional weavers being looked after?
Yes, Development Commissioner in Ministry of Textiles is tasked with responsibility of providing all round support to traditional weavers of handloom sector. The interest of power loom weavers is being seen by our office.
The next generation of weavers are moving out of the profession into better prospects. How can they be discouraged to do this?
As such, all traditional sectors have been seeing this exodus due to change of market dynamics. I also have stories of skilled youngsters going back to roots armed with new technology and scale up processes. From Government side, increasing market access can and has helped in some genres and higher value can be created for niche.
In 2020, Ministry of Textiles had reportedly approved a Production-linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme – with an outlay of Rs. 10,683 crores. Has this been successfully implemented? How many people have benefitted from this?
64 applications have been approved so far by the Ministry of Textiles, Government of India under Production-linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme. The proposed total investment is Rs.19,798 crore and projected turnover of Rs. 1,93,926 crores with a proposed employment of 2,45,362.
How does the Textile ministry help individuals seeking IP protection? Is the Indian Patents Act actively utilised by innovators in the textile business?
As a part of protecting Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) of unique textiles and Handicrafts of the country, the Ministry of Textiles has been facilitating registration under GI Act”1999. The GI act stipulates protection of unique textiles originated from a definite area with unique qualities/ characteristics like Pashmina Wool, Banaras Brocades and Saree, etc. As of now, 231 unique textiles and Handicrafts have been registered under the said act out of total 417 products. Our Textiles
Committee under the Ministry of Textiles has been working continuously for protecting and promoting the unique textiles of the country. Our R&D institutes and innovators are realising the importance of patenting their innovation. In one R&D Scheme, the Textile Research Associations have been able to file for almost 46 patents.
Your tenure in this post is limited to five years. Now that you are more than halfway into the job, how many of your projects and initiatives are successfully implemented or wrapped up?
When I joined, first job was to organise implementation of flagship support scheme for technology wading through the sad phase of Covid constraints. I am thankful for the support of leadership and inputs from stakeholders, and our teams due to which have been able to bring significant stability, transparency and seamlessness in the processes and delivery. We have worked to strengthen interface with the sector across the board. In addition to bigger schemes like MITRA/ PLI, closer focus would be to ensure good research sees the commercialisation (On R&D), responsible manufacturing, strengthening visibility of enterprise from this MSME driven sector. We hope to keep contributing to the betterment of the value chain bringing synergy across and cohesiveness among various points of value chain. We hope to strengthen support to livelihoods in the process.