Kashmir’s Famed Silk Industry Dies Silent Death15 October 2011
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. “Where is our own indigenous silkworm race now?” officials ask. “Past two decades proved to be the last nail in the coffin for this sector. Government’s negligence to address the causes that led to the diminishing of the booming business, lack of long term policy, infrastructure ensured that the sector is gasping for breath today,” said a senior official. 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. The de-monopolization paved way for filatures from other states like Mysore, Bengal and Karnataka to come to buy quality Kashmiri cocoons at prices which were too high for the Kashmir filatures, resulting in decrease in raw material supply to it and the closure of its working basins. 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. “J&K is the only state which produces the best quality Bivoltile silk. But the irony is that less than 30 percent of cocoons produced indigenously are used for silk production locally and the remaining production is brought by the traders from outside states,” officials 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. Minister for Agriculture, Ghulam Hassan Mir, said government is putting efforts for reviving the sector. The department distributes seeds and mulberry plants free of cost to farmers, and provides them additional Rs seven for each plantation. “We also provide financial support of Rs 50000 to each family associated with the sector for developing infrastructure for cocoon production besdies insurance cover to the family,” Mir said. 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.