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The Green in our Weaves: Sustainable Cotton Textiles

GS Paper 3

Syllabus: Indian Economy and issues relating to Planning, Mobilization of Resources, Growth, Development and Employment


Source: IE


Direction: The article tries to present the scenario of India’s cotton textiles since colonial times and suggests a way ahead and a best practice that makes it sustainable.


Context: The article discusses the past (colonial times), present and future of cotton textiles in India.


Past scenario:

  • Since the first century of the Common Era, Indian weavers have supplied cotton cloth to the world’s markets.
  • The many forms of Indian cotton cloth – bafta, mulmul, mashru, jamdani, more, percale, nainsukh, chintz, etc., were the source of India’s famed wealth in pre-industrial times (before 1750).
  • Until the industrial revolution in Britain (1750), all yarn for handloom weaving in India was spun by hand.
  • But this occupation vanished with the invention of spinning machines in Britain and the import of machine-spun cotton yarn.
  • Since India was a British colony, the latter dictated its economic policies (raw cotton was shipped to supply British industry and machine-woven cotton fabrics began to be imported).




Situation by 1947:

  • Mass production was well established, and India’s own spinning and weaving mills took over the role of Lancashire in Britain.
  • American cotton varieties and their hybrids gradually replaced native ones and native varieties grew only in a few pocket





  • Cotton in India is grown largely by small farmers.
  • Farm practices shifted from sustainable, family-based agriculture to intense commercial farming.
  • Input costs rose because –
    • Seeds supplied by large multinational corporations are costly.
    • Use of fertiliser, pesticide and fungicide. American varieties → irrigation → increases humidity → encourages pests and fungi → adds to the cost of cultivation, but does not guarantee a good harvest.
  • Farmer indebtedness, impoverishment and suicides.
  • Diversity compromised – The machines needed a uniform kind of cotton, so the hundreds of varieties of Indian cotton (like the finest fabrics Dhaka muslins) lost importance.


Current scenario:

  • India is the largest producer (of 34.1 million bales (bales of 170 kg each) in 2021-22) of cotton globally.
  • It is a crop that holds significant importance for the Indian economy (grows over 11.7 million hectares in India compared to 31.2 million hectares globally) and the livelihood of about 60 million Indian farmers.
  • In 2020, India stood as the third highest exporter of raw cotton globally, amounting to US$ 6.3 billion (10.2% of the total global exports).
  • The government has been implementing various policy initiatives and schemes to encourage cotton spinning mills in the country. For example,
    • Amended Technology Upgradation Fund Scheme (ATUFS)
    • Market Access Initiative (MAI) Scheme
    • SAMARTH (Scheme for Capacity Building in the Textile Sector)
    • Mega Investment Textiles Parks (MITRA), etc.
  • However, the introduction of genetically modified seeds (Bt. cotton) is causing worry because its long-term impact on productivity and biodiversity is unknown.





Way ahead:

  • The world is looking for “green” industries.
  • As independent India turns 100 in @2047, handloom weaving located close to cotton fields can make it a world leader in sustainable production.




Best practice (The malkha process):

  • The process has pioneered yarn spinning suited to the small scale of handloom production, using the different cotton varieties grown in various regions of India to provide an alternative to the mass production of cotton yarn.
  • Malkha has also added natural dyeing of yarn to make its fabrics even more sustainable.

The textile sector in India:


India is one of the largest consumers and producers of cotton and jute in the world. 95% of the world’s hand-woven fabric comes from India. The Indian technical textiles segment is estimated at $16 bn, approximately 6% of the global market.


It is the 2nd largest employment provider after agriculture. India is 2nd largest manufacturer of PPE and producer of polyester, silk and fibre in the world.



The government has launched the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme to promote the production of MMF Apparel, MMF Fabrics and Products of Technical Textiles in the country to enable Textiles Industry to achieve size and scale and to become competitive.


Insta Links: Textile industry seeks govt support to stay competitive


Mains Links:

Q. Analyse the factors for the highly decentralised cotton textile industry in India. (UPSC 2013)