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Looms hum in Surat kitchens

Joydeep Ray in Ahmedabad | December 21, 2004

Upendra Patel, one of the 600,000-odd powerloom owners in Surat, has been fighting with his wife of 30 years, Smritiben, for the past two weeks.

The row began when Patel, who owns 24 looms that hum in his house --- yes, in his two-storied home --- decided to install four more in Smritiben's domain, the family kitchen.

On Thursday, Patel finally prevailed when he convinced his wife that there was more business -- and money -- coming their way with the end of global textile trade quotas on December 31.

For her sacrifice, Smritiben has been promised a 'memorable trip' to Goa in January --- provided the Patels can take time off from their busy schedule.

The story of Patel Looms is not unusual in a city that made global headlines exactly a decade ago when Black Death --- or plague --- had wreaked havoc.

The ghost town of 10 years ago is once again bracing up to grab the headlines, because of its Rs 24,000 crore (Rs billion) textile industry that spills over into adjoining towns such as Sachin and Pandesara.

It is not just about production going full tilt. Technology and capacity expansion go together here as loom owners see opportunities for large volume exports of grey and processed fabrics as the year 2005 dawns. Grey is unprocessed fabric and Surat earns over Rs 15,000 crore (Rs billion) every year from this business alone.

Analysts expect this and the processed fabrics segment to grow at a clip of 20 per cent or more a year in a quota-free regime. There is an equally impressive opportunity envisaged in value-added products.

The import of it all is not lost on Devendra Gittuwala, a Surat-based powerloom owner. He intends to produce specialised fabrics and has ordered for twisting and warping 'TFO' (two for one) machines.

"These machines would automatically lead to higher production and also ensure better quality of greys. I have 80 powerlooms, all of which are running at full capacity. I would not add more looms but would rather value-add so that I get more export orders," Gittuwala says.

Arun Jariwala, president, Surat Art Silk Manufacturers' Association (SASMA), and the owner of one of the largest processing houses in the city, says most of the 400 processing houses in and around Surat are in the last lap of an upgrade that started two years back.

Based on business enquiries, says Jariwala, these investments would pay for themselves by the end of 2005.

Surat produced 30 million metres of fabric every day in 2003-04. Jariwala believes production would touch 40 million metres in one year and 60 million metres in the next three years.

So what about the Chinese bogey?

Gittuwala believes the quality of greys manufactured in Surat is far better than what comes spinning out of China or elsewhere.

"A Surti weaver can manufacture twisted items; the Chinese are yet to learn this art," he points out.

Pramod Chaudhary, chairman, South Gujarat Textiles Exporters Association, concurs. He says avenues would also open up in special segments such as non-woven fabrics, which are popular in America today. He says the Surti weaver can today handle all manner of business orders.

Meanwhile, at her Udhna-Magdalla Road home, Smritiben has started utilising a portion of the verandah to cook for the four members of the family.

Surat by numbers

Rs 24,000 crore is the turnover of the local textile industry.
600,000 is the number of powerloom owners.
30,000,000 m of fabric were made everyday in 03-04.
20 per cent is the rate at which the processed fabrics segment is set to grow in the coming quota-free regime.

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