Kashmir’s Famed Silk Industry Dies Silent Death
Muddasir Ali (Greater Kashmir)
Srinagar: Once flagship industry of Jammu and Kashmir, silk rearing is in shambles today. The factors that silenced the spinning wheels at Kashmir Filatures here are varied, officials say.
Established in 1897 with Italian reeling basins, the Filatures were transferred to JK Industries Ltd in 1963. With an installed capacity of 584 reeling basins, the unit once employed more than 2000 workers.
For long, the mulberry silk produced in the Valley was taken to faraway western countries. Historians say a century ago Kashmir had a “dynamic silk trade.” In 1940s, the precious silk yarn was even exported to the entire British Empire.
“Silk industry was a main revenue earner for the state during the Maharaja rule. Kashmir had its indigenous races of silkworm and would produce best quality cocoons in the world,” said an official associated with the sector.
A cursory look at statistics show that during heydays the cocoon production had reached above 15 lakh kilograms in 80s.
Even, officials say, when the silk sector in France got almost wiped out due to a disease to the silkworm seed, the material was imported from Kashmir to revive the France industry.
But then the time changed for the worse for the Kashmir industry. The cocoon production dipped to 60000 kgs in late 90s. Government’s negligence towards development of the industry, “political interference” and low market price made farmers disinterested resulting in fall of once booming industry.
Last year Government’s decision to close down JKI-owned Kashmir Filatures, which was left defunct for almost a decade, put a lid on any of its revival plans.
Another major blow to the sector was the mismanagement vis-a-vis operational costs.
“From time to time more than the required manpower was employed due to political interference. The filatures could not handle the operational costs but nobody thought about the production losses. It silently pushed silk rearing to the edge,” officials said.
The downfall of the industry had already taken roots. From hundreds of reeling basins the units got shrunk to 31 in 2008-09. The raw silk production has been witnessing distressing trends in recent past—8.2 metric tones in 2004-05, 21.2 MT in 07-08. But the production slipped down to 17.1 MT in 2008-09.
A report by the State Finance Commission has only proved that negligence by the authorities had cost dearly to the industry.
In its report submitted to the government the SFC has reported the unit is closed and has no potential for survival and it merits disposal through open auction.
“Kashmir Filature Solina having 70 kanals of land totally unutilized can fetch a handsome price ranging from Rs 70 to Rs 100 crore. The money must be utilized by the corporation in its attempt at revival, employment and generation and further extension,” the report recommends.
Reportedly the land belonging to the sick units is being sold at throwaway prizes to government departments. More than 20 percent of their land has been given away to Public Service Commission, Sales Tax department and other departments.
Sources trace the genesis of decline of Kashmir Filatures to de-monopolization of the industry and later its bifurcation into Kashmir Filatures and Sericulture department.
Government’s reluctance to increase the price of the cocoons for almost two decades was another blow to the farming community, officials said.
“Per kilogram cost of cocoon was not increased for almost two decades by the government. A kilogram of A-Grade cocoon was purchased from the farmers for Rs 180 till 2009. Now the rates are Rs 210 per kg, far below what can attract a grower towards the sector. In open market the rates even touch Rs 600 per kg,” sources said.
Experts believe invasion of low cost silk yarn from China only consumed the Kashmir industry. There was no policy framed to tackle the invasion, officials argue. The sector has witnessed deterioration to the extent that the carpet industry of the valley depends on imports of silk.
However officials at the Sericulture Department, which deals with cocoon production, Mulberry tree plantation on which the silkworm feeds, argue everything is not lost. The cocoon production, they said is witnessing an upward trend for past few years-- 738 metric tones during 2008-09, 810 metric tones during 2009-10 and 860 metric tones for the last fiscal. The demand for the Bivoltile silk at the country level is above 5000 metric tones.
But they argue it is the private sector which has kept the industry going. “It has brought competition which is proving beneficial for the farmers too,” officials said.
The department distributes seeds and mulberry plants free of cost to farmers, and provides them additional Rs seven for each plantation.
He said the department is also helping the farmers with the latest drying techniques which helps maintain the quality of the product.
“The production as well as the cost of the cocoon has gone up this year. It is a healthy trend,” Mir said.
Binoo Joshi (IANS)
In a bid to revive its silk industry and create employment opportunities for youth, the Jammu and Kashmir government has embarked on a novel idea of allotting barren pieces of land to unemployed youth for mulberry plantation.
Agriculture and Sericulture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir told IANS: "There is a crunch of state land in Jammu and Kashmir; so we have decided to utilise any patch available to us."
The idea is to utilise space on road-dividers, roadsides or any piece of land by planting mulberry trees, on which silk-bearing cocoons are reared.
According to Mir, the department will form various groups comprising youngsters from villages and allot them land. "They will be provided with mulberry plants and other support."
Rehmat Ali, fresh out of school, is excited to be participating in the scheme.
"I am sure that this small beginning will lead us to a big success. Maybe the youth involved in this scheme can take Kashmir's silk to the top," Ali, hailing from Badgam's Magam town, told IANS.
The life-cycle of a silk worm has four stages -- the egg, silk worm, pupa and the moth.
The silk worm feeds on mulberry leaves and forms a covering around it by secreting a protein-like substance through its head. This stage is called cocoon, the desirable stage for silk producers.
The cocoons raised by farmers are delivered to the factory, called a filature, where the silk is unwound from the cocoons and the strands are collected into skeins.
The department plans to buy the product from these men, thus making them earn money.
"This is an innovative idea to provide employment to youth. The department has started this scheme on the 24 km road to Tangmarg, which is near tourist resort Gulmarg," the minister said.
Gradually, the department plans to use land on the roadside and on dividers across the state.
"We require more leafage for rearing cocoon and I am hopeful this idea will help us in a small way to start with," noted the minister.
A group of 30 men have already started planting mulberry plants. Riaz Ahmad, a science graduate, is one of them.
The 24-year-old was desperate to get a job. Now, he is part of the first group of men to plant and take care of mulberry plants.
"I am happy to be a part of this scheme. Though we will be earning less in the beginning, it is better than sitting idle at home and becoming a burden on old parents, Ahmad told IANS on telephone.
Mir said that in the beginning, "this scheme will employ 150 men".
"This will help in increasing the silk production and also create jobs for youth." There is a need to revive the silk industry in the state which is facing "not so good times". Kashmiri silk is known for its international quality.
According to official statistics, the state produced 1.6 million kg of silk in 1960 while the current production level has dropped down to 900,000 kg.