Popularly known as the brass city of India, Moradabad has been producing quality brass handicrafts and articles since decades. But the impact of the pandemic, a slump in global demand and stiff international competition has knocked the sheen off the city's economy. The skilled pair of hands which once chiseled exquisite artefacts from brass have been driven to ferrying passengers around the city for a living.
Handicraft artisan Tahir Hussain said, “There's no work. I drive a rickshaw all day, yet I am unable to earn enough. I spent months waiting for work as a brass artisan, but faced a lot of distress. I used to earn Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 per month, now I barely earn Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,500.”
Another artisan Mohammad Mohsin, has turned to selling mangoes to make ends meet. A contract worker, Mohsin had to walk away from a job his family has been involved in for generations, because there just wasn't any work coming in.
Mohsin said, “Skilled artisans are discontinuing brass work, traditional vocation is dying out. Unemployment drove me to sell mangoes, but I don't want my children to do so. Monthly income is down from around Rs 50,000 to Rs 10,000.”
It began with disruptions due to the pandemic, then a drying up of export orders in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and disruptive competition from China and Vietnam have been another nail in the proverbial coffin. Industry sources told CNBC-TV18 that over one lakh skilled artisans have left the industry, and are now struggling to find employment. For many business owners involved in the brass trade, viability has become a big problem.
Brass manufacturer Mohammad Usman said, “Cost of raw material has risen from Rs 300 per kg to Rs 500-550 per kg. Labour is costly and not easily available. So we are unable to take orders.”
This has forced businesses in the area to seek lower GST on handicrafts, and measures to check the rise in raw material prices.
Neeraj Khanna, a member of EPCH, said, “If we want to grow the business from across India then we have to be more proactive and that would require government support. China gives incentives to its exporters at 0 percent interest. Every sector needs common facility centres with best technology so we can produce goods competitively.”
The brass artifacts produced and exported from India may take a hit if artisans keep exiting this traditional industry. However, brass exporters feel that government's help in mechanisation of the industry can not only reduce the need for a large workforce but will also improve per capita income for existing artisans and will encourage them to improve.