India's industrial clusters can become quality good producers

Friday, 28 March 2008, 13:27 Hrs
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New Delhi:In the industrial clusters that dot India, skilled workers collaborate to produce a range of amazing products that are now drawing global attention. Researchers are exploring how these clusters can be turned into makers of high-end quality goods.

A study on Indian industrial clusters by Keshab Das has received attention, with a review of his work being carried in the latest Blackwell-published International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.

It is a collection of papers written by academics and practising economists from India, the Netherlands and France. Based on empirical data, the case studies cover a range of products manufactured in different states of India.

Industrial cluster refers to small and artisan enterprises concentrated in a geographical area within a state.

Researchers globally have been exploring how these enterprises can be lifted from being low-end production units to being high-end ones manufacturing high-quality goods "that can find a niche in the global market."

India has quite a few of these.

Agra has its footwear industry. Compared with more successful and high-end footwear clusters in Italy, Agra's enterprises remain low-end, marked by sweatshop-style working conditions and poor-quality products.

Unlike in Italy, where trust is seen as an important pre-requisite, there is a lack of trust between the artisans and the traders in Agra, researchers pointed out.

This hampers collaboration between the people with marketing expertise and those with `artisanal' skills, says a book authored by Das.

Mutual distrust in some other clusters could hinder collective action at the economic or political level in spite of common interests.

Brick kilns form industrial clusters located in the rural areas of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Bihar. The kilns see a cheap and elastic labour supply consisting of migrants and marginalised poor cultivators.

"Low wages, bad working conditions, the casualisation of labour, exploitation and child labour are prevalent. Labour unions, more often than not, do not exist to protect the interests of the brick kiln workers," said reviewer Sarita Kamra of Panjab University, writing in the international journal.

West Bengal's clusters that get noticed include those for handloom (Nabadwip) and conch shell products (Jitpur and Bishnupur). The latter are marked by a master-trader system that facilitates innovation.

Bamboo products come in from Kerala. It is felt that the cooperatives and the public sector do not promote individual initiative and innovation.

Cuttack in Orissa has its silver filigree workers. Suggestions have come up to form cooperatives and seek government intervention along with improvement in the quality of the product.

Jaipur's hand block printed textiles cluster evolved from block-printed products to upper-end export-oriented products for foreign markets but challenges are being faced by traditional handicraft.
Source: IANS
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