The Maharashtra government has been placing a lot of emphasis on developing Vidarbha’s cotton value chain, and has attracted a number of textile units to the region through various incentive schemes. Next on the map is Solapur, which the government wants to develop as a textile uniform manufacturing hub.
But just a little over 200 kms away from Solapur, is the small powerloom cluster of Ichalkaranji, which has not attracted as much attention. Which is surprising, because this is one of the textile clusters that is known for its excellent weaving quality. Many leading textile companies – Indo Count, Raymond, Monti, among others have their manufacturing units in the Kolhapur-Ichalkaranji belt. And almost every branded apparel manufacturer uses fabric made in Ichalkaranji.
The cluster manufactures 14 million metres of grey fabric per day, predominantly cotton. A lot of this goes into the manufacturing of apparel – caps, vests, etc – used by farmers. And even more of the fabric finds its way into process houses across the country, from where it travels to leading garment manufacturing clusters in Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata. And from here, the fabric, now in the form of apparel, gets exported.
In one of her visits to Ichalkaranji, textile commissioner Kavita Gupta commented that this is probably the only textile cluster in India which manufactures 1000s of metres of fabrics, which is sold across the country and abroad, but the fabric manufacturer is unaware of the supply chain.
It is with the aim of completing the value chain within the cluster that a mega processing cluster has been set up in Ichalkaranji, at a total cost of around Rs 250 crore.
The cluster, under the Integrated Processing Development Scheme (IPDS), has received central government funding to the tune of Rs 50 crore, with the rest coming from bank loans. The mega processing cluster began operations in November 2018.
It has a total capacity of 140,000 metres per day. The mega cluster has three state-of-the-art sizing units, process house, digital printing, rotary printing facilities. The cluster aims at zero liquid discharge, which will be possible within the next two years.
The cluster has its own captive power plant. The payback period is expected to be 5-7 years, if the process house works at viable capacity.
At the helm of affairs is DKTE Institute of Ichalkaranji which has been instrumental in the development of the cluster. Chairman of the institute, and erstwhile textile minister of Maharashtra Prakash Awade, has a vision to not just complete the cotton value chain in Ichalkaranji, but to make Ichalkaranji the hub for high value textile, apparel and technical textiles.
“This is the pioneer project for Ichalkaranji. Clearly, the demand for processing capacity is much more than what we have provided in the mega cluster. There is need for another 10-20 such projects in Ichalkaranji,” said Awade.
The initiative to upgrade the powerloom cluster began in 2014, when high-end airjet looms started coming into the market. Currently, there are 12,000 shuttleless looms in the cluster, with another 2000 new looms in the pipeline, which will get installed over the next two years. Gradually, plain looms are getting phased out.Ichalkaranji is also known for its sizing quality. This segment too was upgraded to match the high tech weaving quality.
This has led to good quality grey fabric manufacturing in the cluster, with varieties going upto 80s counts, and superfine qualities.
While there is a clear need for more processing capacity, there are a few obstacles. “Firstly industrial land is not available. Second problem is pollution control. Today, we have one CETP of 12 MLD capacity, but we need at least two more CETPs of similar capacity immediately. Only then will new process houses come up. We have identified 2-3 places for the CETPs. We want to build this under the IPDS scheme too,” informed Awade.
Garmenting is the next step
After the mega cluster, the step to complete the value chain is garmenting. Ichalkaranji already has an apparel cluster with around 200 machines. The groundwork of training women workers, helping them set up apparel units, or supporting units, has already been done by DKTE. “We have excellent garment manufacturing skills within Ichalkaranji itself. Under the mega cluster, we now want to set up most modern garmenting units too, which will create demand for processed fabric within the cluster itself. Our aim is to focus on variety, to showcase to the world that their apparel requirements can be met under a single roof,” envisions Awade.
A garmenting centre was started by DKTE as early as in 2004-05. DKTE organised skills training for women. As many as 4500 women have entered into the cluster’s garment sector, either working in the industry, or starting their own units.
“Almost every house in Ichalkaranji is manufacturing garments as small business. We started a garment cluster, under MSME, for women entrepreneurs. This is quite successful today, with high end apparel being exported to various countries,” informed Awade.
Today, around 7000-8000 women are working in Ichalkaranji’s garment sector, and around 70-80 units are associated with the garment cluster. The aim of this exercise was mainly women empowerment.
Branding and direct exports
Another target for Awade is to ensure direct exports, instead of third party exports. “With the complete value chain, we should be able to achieve this. We are already participating in a number of international exhibitions. We are in the process of setting up a B2B centre, with PDEXCIL, so domestic and international buyers can network with Ichalkaranji’s manufacturers and traders.”
Also, brand building is an important exercise that many manufacturers are currently undertaking. “We manufacture the best quality woven fabric, and we will manufacture the best quality apparel too. Building a brand thus becomes very important. Made In Ichalkaranji will be reality by 2020,” believes Awade.
Encouraging techtex manufacturing
There is also technical textiles and nonwovens which Ichalkaranji is promoting. DKTE is the Centre of Excellence for Nonwovens. The CoE has the latest machines for nonwovens. Many existing units utilise the facilities of the CoE. More importantly, easy access to the technical knowhow and machines has encouraged some entrepreneurs to start their own nonwovens manufacturing units, with support from DKTE and the CoE.
“We have installed coating lines in the CoE. There are entrepreneurs who are currently experimenting with how coatings can be used on woven textiles too. Our ultimate aim in setting up all these facilities is to ensure value addition, and to provide opportunities to DKTE alumni within the cluster itself. I am happy to note that we have a very strong alumni that works continuously to take the Ichalkaranji cluster forward,” concluded Awade.