Govt To Promote Hop Cultivation: Move To Encourage Liquor Industry In JK2 April 2010
Jammu: Although the government has stopped issuing license for sale of liquor in the State, the plan of reviving the cultivation of hops – a plant used in preparing beer - in Kashmir has become agricultural ministry’s top priority. The ministry is luring the farmers for resuming cultivation by providing “necessary inputs and incentives”. Cultivation of hops, which was a valuable source of income for Jammu and Kashmir and foreign exchange saver for India was stopped in Kashmir after the outbreak of armed rebellion in 1989. Now the government is hoping to resume hop cultivation. “Government had not banned hop cultivation. It was because of turmoil that farmers who were cultivating hops shifted their focus on other crops. However, now my department will provide all necessary inputs and incentives to the farmers interested in restarting hop cultivation,” Minister for Agriculture, Ghulam Hassan Mir informed the Legislative Council few days back when asked about government’s plans to revive hops cultivation. The development came only days after Finance Minister Abdur Rahim Rather said in the assembly that “he does not intend to issue liquor licenses in the future as part of government efforts to discourage liquor consumption” in the State. The cultivation of hops in Kashmir is still a sensitive issue. Last year, when liquor baron Vijay Mallya announced plans to restart hop cultivation, Kashmir received the news with anger. Then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had to intervene and convince Mallya to shun his plans of cultivating hops in Kashmir. Mallayas had started hop cultivation at Shilvat in north Kashmir in 1973 but after 1989 militants had destroyed a unit run by the family and forced its closure. However, the militant threats and separatists cashing on the issue seem no concern for the government this time. “Our State is cash starved and economically fragile. Enhancing agricultural and horticultural production can help. If hop cultivation and other medicinal plants is encouraged, it will help to a great extent to strengthen our economy,” a top official said pleading anonymity. Meanwhile, sources said that an assistance of Rs 3 lakh would be provided to farmers for each nursery cultivating hops or other medicinal plants. Government of India is also providing assistance to State government for prioritising cultivation of hops and other medicinal plants in the State, the sources said. With the revival of hop cultivation in Kashmir, raw material for making beer would be easily available in the State. People apprehend that the consumption of liquor, which is very low in Kashmir as compared to Jammu, may go up with hop cultivation. Most of the existing liquor outlets are in Jammu. Of the 226 liquor shops owned by the private parties in the State, only five are in Kashmir valley and two in Ladakh while the rest are in Jammu region. In Kashmir, liquor sale came to a grinding halt after the outbreak of armed rebellion in 1989. Militants had started a vigorous and vicious campaign to ban liquor sale and damaged many shops. It was only a few years back that five liquor shops were opened in the Valley despite opposition of the locals and separatist organisations. The government records reveal that liquor sale and consumption has grown in the Valley in recent years. The records say some 11.5 lakh bottles of Indian-made liquor, desi whisky and beer were consumed in 2008-09 in Kashmir. However, Jammu is far ahead in liquor consumption when compared to Kashmir. Official figures put it at over 1.5 crore bottles in 2008-09.