While Ramanagara is the silk city, Channapatna is the land of toys. Both are part of the Bengaluru Rural constituency.
A huge board 'Welcome to the Silk City Ramanagara' stares at you as one enters this district, 50 kilometres from state capital Bengaluru.
True to its name, Ramanagara is Asia's largest cocoon market as it sees people from across the state and country.
Every day, the market is abuzz as thousands of farmers and buyers come to the market to buy and sell cocoon that is used for making raw silk. The market has the capacity of 40 tonnes and sells about 25-30 tonnes per day.
"The cost of cocoon has come down drastically in the last one year. If it continues the business will not be viable anymore," said Shaik Maula Maula, a farmer from Hassan.
The cost of cocoon, used for making raw silk, has seen a steep decline in the last couple of years due to high influx of Chinese silk in the market.
Karnataka accounts for one-third of country's silk production. Most of the farmers across the state come to Ramanagara cocoon market to sell their produce. However in the recent times the market has lost its sheen as the price has dropped.
N Ramanna, district president, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, a farmer union, said: "The price is Rs 250 per kg when it was Rs 500-550 per kg couple of years back." Influx of Chinese silk, which is both cheap and of high quality, is now preferred by the buyers compared to expensive Indian product.
Ramanna blames the reduction in import duty from 30 percent to 10 percent for the decline in price of indigenous silk. In addition, the supply of silk has come down as well as the number of silk farmers has come down in the last few years even as the demand is on the rise.
"Number of farmers have come down by half in the last 2-3 years alone as the business in not viable anymore," said Thimme Gowda, another member of the farmer union.
In the village Huchumugenahalli in Ramanagara district, where Ramanna and Gowda resides, of the 300 houses that were into sericulture only 50 are in the business. “For every one kilo of cocoon we produce, we invest Rs 300. With the market price at Rs 250, it is not enough to sustain the business,” Gowda explained.
The distress among the farmers is both an issue and a non-issue for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
Ramanagara, which comes under Bengaluru Rural constituency, goes to the polls on April 18.
Neither the state nor Centre has helped them, say the farmers. "The candidates have not even visited the constituency yet, let alone making promises," said a farmer.
Both the candidates – DK Suresh from Congress-JD(S) alliance and Ashwath Narayana Gowda from BJP– are Vokkaligas. So, caste is not a deciding factor.
"But people are not happy as GST and demonetisation have affected the farmers deeply. That might just be enough to turn the tide," he added.
The land of toys
A similar story is playing out in another city.
Around 15 kilometres from the silk city, is the land of toys Channapatna. One could hear the click-clacking of machinery, and smell wood as you enter the village. Small workshops run mostly by the families dot the village that makes the GI-tagged Channapatna dolls made from wood.
K Shivalingam runs a small shop in the village along with his brothers and cousins for years. Shivalingam, now 45, has been making dolls since he was 10. The small workshop can accommodate four, each making 50 dolls per day. The day the reporter visited the shop, he was making an airplane dyed purple and orange.
Each airplane earns him Rs 50, whereas his input cost, including electricity, labour and raw materials, comes to about Rs 40.
"We have been told the dolls are being exported and are sold at Rs 100 per piece," says Shivalingam, as he dyes the wings of airplane orange. With exports picking up and domestic demand for the dolls increasing, there is a gap in the income of artisans.
Another issue facing them is getting loans. K Ravi, another artisan, said: "I have an artisan card. As per the government scheme I’m eligible for a loan of close to Rs 2 lakh if I have the card. But so far I have been running pillar to post but has not been successful."
As per Artisan Credit Card Scheme, all artisans involving production/manufacturing process, artisans registered with Development Commissioner (Handicrafts) are eligible for credit limit of maximum Rs 2 lakh.
Artisans say this exists only in paper as the banks are not proactive enough and managers reluctant to help.
Ravi explained that while the profit is not much in domestic sales, catering to export order will help small manufacturers like him.
"Unlike bigger players we do not have enough cash. Loans can help us improve our facility and cater to export orders that has a huge potential," he added.
Both farmers and toy makers are unhappy with the way governments handled their issues. While the BJP-led central government failed at the execution of the schemes, they say, the locals are also angered by the State government’s apathy towards issues raised.
Would that be poll issue? Hardly, said a local businessmen in the village who did not want to be named. “Both Congress-JD(S) alliance and BJP have not even visited many of parts of the district.”According to him, it hardly makes a difference to villagers who wins and losses.
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