Willow On The Wane, Kashmir Cricket Bat Faces Extinction25 September 2011
Hulmulla: Kashmir’s fabled cricket bats may soon call it a day as the main raw material-the willow-is fast disappearing due to the long gestation period and low returns for farmers. The industry, with around 300 small and big manufacturing units, provides direct and indirect employment to nearly 15,000 people in the Valley and is estimated to have an annual turnover of over Rs 10 crore. Dwindling willow plantation amid allegations about the incapacity of the government to introduce an upgraded breed of the willow, which grows faster to the required girth, may lead to the demise of the industry sooner than expected. Abdul Hameed, who has been manufacturing bats for the last 35 years, at a factory in Hullmulla village, located on the highway in South Kashmir, said the industry may soon shut down. “This industry is in its last stages and will soon collapse,” Hameed said. He said the biggest handicap of the industry is the willow itself, which takes decades to grow to the size required for making bats. “There are not many trees left and no one plants them anymore because the government has failed to introduce the English willow here. No one will keep his land in use for a plantation which takes 30 years to grow,” he said. At Gateway Sports Factory, where Hameed works, there are thousands of bat clefts stacked and saw dust covers the ground. The factory manufactures 2,000-4,000 bats annually, depending on the market demand. The “bat-hub”, comprising seven villages - Charsoo, Hallmulla, Bijbehara, Sangam, Sethar, Pujteng and Mirzapor in the South Kashmir - also faces another problem. The widening of the National Highway will displace 99 factories and the government seems to have no plans for their relocation. “Some people associated with this industry are facing difficulties because of the road widening, let them come and meet me,” State Minister of Industries S S Slathia told reporters while inaugurating a common facility centre for cricket bats. Ironically, a facility with boiler-based wood seasoning chambers - which speeds up the processing of bat clefts - has been constructed alongside the highway without any planning or consultation with the Roads and Buildings department. Parts of the facility constructed at a cost of Rs 6 crore are also getting bulldozed on account of widening of the National Highway. “Road widening is about national interest, but we also have to see what steps should be taken to help those who will be displaced by the road widening. I ask the deputy commissioner to provide them proper compensation,” Slathia said. He said they will be settled in a “cluster” at a single place. The President of the Cricket Bat Manufacturers Association of Kashmir, Nazir Ahmad Salroo, seemed more pessimistic about the prospects of the industry. “Not even ten years,” he said, “The end of this industry will begin in the next two years.” Salroo blamed the consecutive state governments for the decline in industry. “We had once submitted a proposal for introduction of high breed willow and asked the government to provide us land for plantation, but it was never allotted,” he said. He said the government has also failed to notify the use of willow exclusively for bat manufacturing.