Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the government’s PM Vishwakarma scheme on 17th September, 2023 on the occasion of Vishwakarma Jayanti. It aims to provide a wide ranging support in the form of training, technology, credit and market support to millions of artisans and craftspeople such as blacksmiths, goldsmiths, potters, carpenters, sculptors, masons, etc. Although a highly aspirational scheme at the first look, several aspects of the scheme should be carefully considered.
A positive aspect of the scheme is that several key agencies, such as the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Electronics and IT, Ministry of Labour & Employment, and SIDBI, have been onboarded since the beginning. They will provide their services through the platforms and schemes such as Skill India, NPCI, PFMS, Jan-Dhan Yojana, NIC, Common Service Centres, DigiLocker, and e-Shram portal. A detailed framework for cooperating with several other ministries, from Labour and Employment, Housing and Urban Affairs, and Commerce and Industries, to Rural Development, Cooperation and Agriculture is also a part of the scheme.
This scheme integrates earlier schemes of the government, such as the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP), Scheme of Fund for Regeneration of Traditional Industries (SFURTI), MUDRA and credit guarantee and interest subsidy schemes (CGTMSE) of the MSME ministry. The learnings from implementation of all of these schemes must be incorporated in the implementation of PM-Vishwakarma scheme. Ideally, there should not be any duplications by clearly defining the criteria for these separate schemes, or the earlier schemes should be subsumed under relevant components of the PM-Vishwakarma scheme.
Three specific aspects of this new scheme need careful consideration. First, the scheme requires registration with the portal as the first step to provide a new Vishwakarma Certificate and ID. Although the guidelines mentions support for Udyam Aadhaar registration, the Udyam itself could have been made a starting point to push formalisation of the artisans and craftspeople, without adding any compliance burden after such registration. Additionally, the scheme can also provide support for streamlining with the state level schemes/acts such as the Shop Act licence in the state of Maharashtra.
The next step requires verification of the applications by the head of local governments such as the Gram Panchayat or ULB and further by the District Implementing Committee. This could become a bottleneck due to the availability of time of these functionaries and also due to political favouritism. Provisions for the approval of beneficiary lists by more democratic platforms such as the Gram Sabha or ULB assemblies or bipartisan committees should be incorporated in the scheme to avoid such bottlenecks.
One important component of the scheme is the promotion of digital transactions, by creating bank accounts, business UPI IDs and QR codes with the support of CSCs. However, there is also a need of attention to more foundational aspects, such as functional literacy and numeracy, financial literacy, and digital literacy to avoid financial losses through mistakes, scams and data theft. Infrastructure availability like electricity and internet connectivity in the rural and remote areas is also crucial for smooth functioning of digital transactions.
“While India’s economy benefits from various small-scale industries, the Bamboo industry is one sector with notable potential for economic and environmental growth. Within this industry, carpenters and coir weavers play an important role, contributing significantly to the small-scale bamboo sector in India. Yet, despite their crucial contributions, they face challenges, from modern training access to breaking into broader markets.” – Nitij Singh is the Co-Founder of ASLEE. He has been working on a project for CEED to understand the challenges of Bamboo Entrepreneurs in Maharashtra.
Artisans and craftspeople, or Vishwakarmas are typically very small in size, what we can term as ‘nano-entrepreneurs’. They are in need of appropriate support to promote employment and enhance incomes. Beyond the introduction of digital tools and platforms like GeM, the PM-Vishwakarma initiative seeks to energise the economic momentum within this unique sector. However, for its full potential to be realised, a collaborative effort is imperative. Only by working in harmony can we ensure the support reaches its true beneficiaries, ultimately strengthening the foundation of our small-scale industry while also supporting the traditional heritage that they have preserved for centuries.