Toys are representatives of our rich cultural history. Our tradition of toys can be traced back to the Harappan civilisation where remains of toys like small carts, bird-shaped whistles, etc were found. According to a study by ASSOCHAM, Indian toy manufacturers serve less than 20% of the Indian market. Recently, the Prime Minister took to ‘Mann ki baat’ and spoke about the dwindling condition of the domestic toy market. Though the talk managed to start a conversation on the issues, they remain far away from being solved.
Challenges faced by the industry
For a long time, small towns like Channapatna in Karnataka have flourished on the remuneration earned by toy-making. However, lack of innovation, poor usage of raw material and lack of good initiatives has led to decrease in the demand of toys produced by them.
The advent of liberalisation introduced Chinese toys to Indian markets and changed the landscape of the industry. With relaxation of the one-child policy in China, the population of new-born babies have considerably increased paving the way for the Chinese toy industry. Huge manufacturing capabilities, ability to duplicate branded toys, and availability of a wide range of toys have made Chinese toys a preferred choice among consumers. By dominating at least 75% of the Indian market, the penetration of Chinese goods has led to shut down of more than 40% of the Indian toy companies.
The ambiguous interpretation of Chapter 95.03 and 95.04 of Central Excise and Tariff Act has also created confusion. In M/s. Pleasantime Products and Anr Vs Commissioner of Central Excise, the court observed that scrabble is a board game and not a puzzle. The court reasoned that since scrabble includes chance and skill, it cannot be termed as an educational toy. Vague definitions only add to the already existing woes of the toy-manufacturers.
As toy making is mostly a family-run business, the collection and submission of C-form for MSMEs leads to delayed inspection, increased lobbying and wastage of time and energy. Demonetisation strained the sales and discretionary purchases. The sales of high value toys were drastically affected.
The introduction of GST increased the already existing chaos in the toy-making industry. Initially, there were three different GST slabs for different types of toys i.e. 28% for board games, 18% for electronic toys, and 12% for other toys. Though the GST rate for board games was later revised to 12%, the rates were lower in the pre-GST period. Earlier, traditional toys were exempted from excise or some states levied 5–6% Value Added Tax (VAT).
The times of COVID-19
The outbreak of the pandemic in China disturbed the production and supply chains of the Indian toy industry. Though anti-China sentiment has reduced imports from the country, the domestic market seems to be struggling to meet the demand. The prices of toys have shot up by 40% due to a 200% hike in import duties of toys. The rising prices coupled with the pandemic has paralyzed this industry.
With the impetus received by the Vocal For Local campaign, Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa has announced the creation of the first toy manufacturing cluster at Koppal. Similar clusters should be encouraged in other parts of the country as well.
Under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, the government should promote Indian toys at Angadwadi level. This will familiarise children with our culture of toys. Interesting board games like Ashtapada, Pallankuzhi, Chaturanga, Pachisi, etc. should be reintroduced to improve cognitive abilities and increase creativity.
The government should promote research and skill development to keep up with international competition. The government can partner with NGOs for facilitating such initiatives.
At an individual level, we can familiarise ourselves with Indian board games and our toy culture. Instead of buying foreign toys, we can purchase the Indian alternative and support our local talent. Just being vocal won’t suffice, we need to act and buy local as well.
The VocalforLocaltoys.com is an initiative that is started to help the artisans and toy makers of Channapatna fight to preserve their rich toy making traditions. We work directly with these artisans and help them reach a wider audience. We also collaborate with them for new toys and designs by studying newer trends in the market. Do check out their toys on our website (VocalforLocaltoys.com) and join us in our fight to preserve this dying art form.