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Khadi: A way forward to green and clean India

 Vinai Kumar Saxena |  2017-04-22 14:03:10.0  |  New Delhi

Khadi: A way forward to green and clean India

The single-most important challenge that humanity is facing nowadays is the need for economic development within ecological limits. Humanity must live within clear planetary boundaries to attain sustainability in the long run that can trigger off economic activity and validate economic output.

Khadi, with a unique history, evokes emotion in India. Khadi – a hand-spun and hand-woven cotton cloth – became popular when Mahatma Gandhi started to use it as a relief program for the lower sections of society, to uproot poverty and unemployment during India's freedom struggle.

While it embodied the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship like many modern-day corporations, the larger objectives of the Khadi movement were markedly different. With its agrarian economy in shambles, India was crying out for useful employment for its millions. Therefore, instead of making its founders rich, Gandhi's Khadi movement was squarely aimed at putting a few valuable rupees into the pockets of the poorest of Indians. The distributive power of Khadi is well illustrated by the fact that in 1927-28, the All India Spinners Association manufactured and sold fabric worth Rs 24 lakh. Of this value, an astounding 60 per cent or about Rs 14 lakh was paid as wages to a lakh of spinners and a few thousand weavers. To recognise the significance of these numbers, we should note that during this period, the average annual income in India was less than Rs 50 and the weavers and spinners of Khadi made far less.

The distributive power of Khadi is well illustrated by the fact that in 1927-28, the All India Spinners Association manufactured and sold fabric worth Rs 24 lakh. Of this value, an astounding 60 per cent or about Rs 14 lakh was paid as wages to a lakh of spinners and a few thousand weavers. To recognise the significance of these numbers, we should note that during this period, the average annual income in India was less than Rs 50 and the weavers and spinners of Khadi made far less.


Endorsed as an ideology of self-reliance and self-sufficiency, Khadi became a synonym of the Indian freedom struggle as it was a decentralised labour-intensive tool-based local cloth production and had a lot of potential to promote local consumption. Khadi is not a mere piece of cloth – instead till date, is a testament of collective philosophy.

If the mounting figures of poverty across the globe are any indication, it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide jobs in modern industries, especially in countries like India, because modern industries are centralised and need huge capital and infrastructure investments. To tackle poverty and unemployment, economic activity must be encouraged at a community level as in a community-run enterprise the cost of organisation, management, market, infrastructure and machinery, procurement of raw materials will be minimal. The cost of the final product will be lower. When this cost is lower, marketing becomes easy at the local level. Obviously, Khadi production in a community meets the first criterion of a green economy enterprise. Even the materials needed to run the Khadi enterprise, like the spinning wheel and handlooms, are extremely simple and cheap. These instruments are constructed from renewable resources like wood or bamboo within a few hours by any carpenter and are easily available to the weakest in the society. The resources consumed are very minimal compared to large textile industries. The energy source for khadi enterprises is human power. Since it uses as little as possible in the way of material and energy, it certainly fulfils the second criteria to call it a green economy enterprise.

To tackle poverty and unemployment, economic activity must be encouraged at a community level as in a community-run enterprise the cost of organisation, management, market, infrastructure and machinery, procurement of raw materials will be minimal. The cost of the final product will be lower. When this cost is lower, marketing becomes easy at the local level. Obviously, Khadi production in a community meets the first criterion of a green economy enterprise. Even the materials needed to run the Khadi enterprise, like the spinning wheel and handlooms, are extremely simple and cheap.

These instruments are constructed from renewable resources like wood or bamboo within a few hours by any carpenter and are easily available to the weakest in the society. The resources consumed are very minimal compared to large textile industries. The energy source for khadi enterprises is human power. Since it uses as little as possible in the way of material and energy, it certainly fulfils the second criteria to call it a green economy enterprise.
Obviously, Khadi production in a community meets the first criterion of a green economy enterprise. Even the materials needed to run the Khadi enterprise, like the spinning wheel and handlooms, are extremely simple and cheap. These instruments are constructed from renewable resources like wood or bamboo within a few hours by any carpenter and are easily available to the weakest in the society. The resources consumed are very minimal compared to large textile industries. The energy source for khadi enterprises is human power. Since it uses as little as possible in the way of material and energy, it certainly fulfils the second criteria to call it a green economy enterprise.


obviously, Khadi production in a community meets the first criterion of a green economy enterprise. Even the materials needed to run the Khadi enterprise, like the spinning wheel and handlooms, are extremely simple and cheap. These instruments are constructed from renewable resources like wood or bamboo within a few hours by any carpenter and are easily available to the weakest in the society. The resources consumed are very minimal compared to large textile industries. The energy source for khadi enterprises is human power. Since it uses as little as possible in the way of material and energy, it certainly fulfils the second criteria to call it a green economy enterprise.

Since Khadi represents self-reliance and operates on human energy, it would always be a limitation on production; it would always flourish within our planetary constraints, making the overall ecological trail of the whole activity very less. Interestingly, out of one kilo of cotton, considering 10 per cent of wastage, one hank of 100 meters of yarns can be produced on the ambar charkha with two spindles with human energy, which takes around 50 minutes. On the other hand, to weave one meter of Khadi, six to seven hanks are required that takes 1.33 human hours. In all, it takes 2.25 human hours to produce one meter of Khadi. If we apply human work output in agriculture, that is equal to 0.1 HP (Horse Power) or 0.074 kWh, to Khadi production, we get 0.225 HP or 0.17 kWh energy which is equivalent to producing one meter of Khadi. Hence, assuming that human labour uses only one/ one hundredth of power, the estimate gives us 11.1 million meter of charkha yarn production from population employed only in agriculture. As against Khadi, to produce one meter mill cloth, 0.45-0.55 kWh electrical energy is required. It means that Khadi is approximately 3.24 times energy efficient than mill cloth.

In all, it takes 2.25 human hours to produce one meter of Khadi. If we apply human work output in agriculture, that is equal to 0.1 HP (Horse Power) or 0.074 kWh, to Khadi production, we get 0.225 HP or 0.17 kWh energy which is equivalent to producing one meter of Khadi. Hence, assuming that human labour uses only one/ one hundredth of power, the estimate gives us 11.1 million meter of charkha yarn production from population employed only in agriculture. As against Khadi, to produce one meter mill cloth, 0.45-0.55 kWh electrical energy is required. It means that Khadi is approximately 3.24 times energy efficient than mill cloth.

But, time has changed a lot since the two-spindle Charkha days! Now, we have marched ahead from eight-spindle to 10-spindle New Model Charkhas to solar Charkhas. These modern Charkhas do not only reduce drudgery, rather they have multiplied the value of human hours in terms of output – subsequently increasing more than 25 per cent of the income. As a result, Khadi – once the icon of low-economic strata – is now one of the major ingredients to contribute in per capita income of our country.
In Khadi enterprise, as an entire community with different intelligent capacities as well as the physically challenged can involve themselves since it is simple and easy to learn and pursue, it would give more space for freedom to its each self-reliant member.

Currently, Khadi industry, under the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) – a statutory body of Government of India – is engaged in promoting and developing Khadi and village industries, to provide employment opportunities in rural areas. As a nodal agency of Prime Minister Employment Generation Program (PMEGP), KVIC has not only created millions of new jobs, it has always shown its commitment to involve even the last man of the community – to fulfill the Sabka saath, sabka vikas mission of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Even in the remotest hilly area of Kaziranga, the KVIC has provided job opportunities to the unemployed tribes – who, in lack of any job, had been involved in illegal vocation of poaching and deforestation. It is only Khadi that brought them to mainstream and they are now the custodians of flora and fauna there.(The author is Chairman, KVIC. Views expressed are strictly personal.)

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