Millennium Post

Hostage to business craft

Dilli Haat, almost two decades old, was established to provide a unique platform to underprivileged artisans from all over the country who were otherwise restricted to their villages and towns. The sole purpose behind the creation of Dilli Haat was to get rid of the middlemen and let craftsmen protect their culture and artistic skills by selling their products directly to national and international buyers.

In less than two decades of its operations, all its purpose has mysteriously been defeated. The fate of true artisans of our country is still at the mercy of officials who have successfully been hoodwinking the poor artisans for so long by pushing them to the wall by being in compliance with some middlemen and bogus Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO).

What is happening in India’s great symbolic craft or nature bazaar could certainly be termed as a national joke that is being played out on our artisans in the name of their upliftment and protection of their craft-skills in Dilli Haat.

It would be naïve to think that the poor craft-persons from across the country who are struggling to survive and whose skills are virtually on the verge of extinction due to financial crunch, are actually paying donations to few NGOs voluntarily. It sounds strange. But, this is what has happened and has been happening.

Dastkaari Haat Samiti, an NGO founded and run by Jaya Jaitly who is also a former president of the Samata Party, has been organising an annual fair under the banner of Dastkaari Haat for craft-persons from  January 1 to January 15.

“I had received a letter from Jaitly’s NGO saying that I would have to pay Rs 30, 000 in order to get a stall for 15 days in Dastkaari Haat fair while official charge was just Rs 10,110. This was her policy and one has to pay if one wants to be there,” said an artist from West Bengal on condition of anonymity. 

Millennium Post contacted Jaya Jaitly to get an explanation on the issue on which she said, “We don’t take any grant from the government to meet our expenses that we bear in order to maintain the developmental work for our artisans throughout the year. In 15 days exhibition we always make sure that no middlemen get access to Dilli Haat. Only true craft-persons are allowed to sell their products”.

“Artisans make huge sales in Dilli Haat during my exhibition which is why they don’t mind paying us five to 10 per cent from their total sales. It actually goes to our NGO to take care further developmental operational works”, said Jaitly on donation issue.

A craft-person, who also participated in that fair, from Delhi has rubbished the claim made by Jaitly and said, “I can only laugh at her statement. It is a complete lie, no artisan is in a position to pay extra as a donation from his or her hard earned money. How could someone call it a donation when it has become a policy that has been forced upon us? This culture of donations has to be broken apart.”

“No one wants to speak against Jaitly because she has hold of quite a few good exhibitions in Delhi and Chennai. If one doesn’t pay full amount (donations) in Dilli Haat that person won’t get an opportunity to put his stall in Chennai”, says an artisan who does not want to be named.  

Ashok Kumar Kuril, Deputy Director in the Ministry of Textiles told Millennium Post that this practice has been going on for a very long time. People have been paying Rs 40,000 to Rs 80,000 to get the stalls. In some cases it could go over lakhs depending upon the stalls that have potential for maximum footfalls and sales. There are few stalls such as 16,18,23,40,42,49,51,56,57,70,77,74, and 75 which are always in demand and  artisans who get these stalls are lured by people who could afford to pay Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 to get those stalls.

Now, the question arises who are these people who have been paying these amounts?  How could genuine artisans, who could hardly fend for themselves, make a payment of Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 to get a stall for barely 15 days?  These people are obviously not the artisans. Middlemen and
brokers have taken over the Dilli Haat.  

The Deputy Director at the Ministry of Textiles  further said that these middlemen or rather businessmen, who could afford to pay this amount to get the stalls, would do anything and everything to make money. And this is what is happening. Things which have been made in factories in Jalandhar and that could hardly fetch Rs 500 to Rs 700 in any general market are actually being sold out in the name of Kashmiri shawls at whopping price in Dilli Haat. That price could range somewhere between Rs 25, 000 to Rs 30,000.

“Shawls are not the only product, embroidery suit and other designed cloths from Sarojani Nagar and Lajpat Nagar market are also making their way to this haat to deceive the foreign buyers. Dilli Haat has been losing its distinction for its quality that has severely been dent by these avaricious businessmen”, said Kuril.

 “As per the Ministry of Textiles official record, there are 22,29,544 people who have got the artisan identity card across the country. Out of which, it is believed, only 30 to 35 per cent people are the true artisans who practice their profession. Identity cards have been issued to the people who don’t even know the arts. This is serious problem the way identity cards are issued to those who don’t even deserve this”, Kuril further added.

It has also been noticed that the artisan identity cards have been issued to several people in one family and in some cases artisans have somehow managed to get the ID cards for their helper and other relatives. As a result, those artists could have better probability to get the stalls through lottery system. There are lacunae in the entire allotment process itself. Due to these lacunae only a handful people are given a chance to put up their stalls in succession.

Currently there are 160 craft stalls at Dilli Haat. These are being allotted by the Office of Development Commissioner (Handicrafts) which has 120 stalls and Office of Development Commissioner (Handlooms) which has 42. These craft stalls are allotted in the cycle of 14-15 days through lottery system.

It has also been noticed that the Dilli Haat department does not put all the stall numbers for draw, few stalls, as mentioned above, which have higher footfalls are sold out much before the official draw with the nexus of officials and NGOs.

Bead jewellery, junk jewellery, synthetic pearls and other products made from rexine under the pretext of leather could also be seen in Dilli Haat. These products apparently do not represent any artistic skills and people who sell these products possess artisan identity cards. These products ideally should never be allowed for sale or display at this place.  These are not the products which Dilli Haat was built for.

But, there is some flaw in government rules, which now many officials are beginning to realise that people in power are misusing the loopholes.  The  Ministry of Textile official explains how and why these products are making their way to Dilli Haat, “The Ministry of Textiles had been issuing two types of cards for artisans which were for Handlooms and Handicrafts. And certain craft-skills like embroidery and pottery were defined and put under respective sections.  Now out of all artisan identity cards there would almost be at least 30 per cent cards which have been issued with no defined artistic skills. These cards are issued under miscellaneous heading.”

“People with miscellaneous card are never bound to sell any defined products nor do they. They buy these artificial jewellery and other products from Lajpat Nagar and Sarojini Nagar market and sell it at price which is sometimes hard to believe,” Kuril Said.     

A team from Ministry of Textile, under the supervision of Deputy Director on February 20, have carried out an inspection and raided 40 stalls. Only seven stalls were found to be okay and rest 33 stalls were not in the compliance with current rules defined in Dilli Haat Operation and Management rules – 2006.

Harish Govil, Chief Manager, Dilli Haat said that the image of Dilli Haat has been deteriorating in terms of quality of products and the way certain activities are happening. Few NGOs and officials could be active and hand in glove with the middlemen in the entire process of selections of artisans and their allotment of stalls.

“We have made several requests to the Ministry of Textiles to send inspection team to conduct the inspection regularly to check out the quality of products. That rarely happens. There have been many complaints that people are selling shawls made in factories somewhere in Ludhiana in the name of pashmina. Few of them are actually selling paintings made in Kanpur by calling it Madhubani painting. We have nobody to check the products whether our buyers are getting real craft or they are ending up buying same old factory products,” said Dilli Haat chief. 

Jaya Jaitly, who has been working for craft-persons, feels that the lottery system which is currently at play in Dilli Haat has been ineffective and the department must devise some new ways to make allotment of stalls. It is not possible for every genuine craft person who is living faraway from metro cities to come to Delhi and sit for the lottery draw. Only certain groups of people are aware of this methodology and they are the same people who apply over and over again by different IDs as every member of the family holds the card.

“A person who used to sell tea in front of Dilli Haat five years ago has now become an artist and holds the artistic identity card for embroidery. Someone really needs to ask the Ministry of Textiles as to how these ID cards are issued,” said Jaitly.

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