Kashmir's Famed Bat Industry Now Threatened By Charas Mafia

10 February 2015
Kashmir Reader
Abdul Mohamim

Srinagar: The biggest threat to the local bat industry was the mafia that supplied banned Kashmiri willow clefts to bat manufacturers in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. The mafia has now teamed up with charas and phuki (poppy husk) smugglers, dealing a double blow to bat makers in the Valley. Charas and phuki is smuggled in the same trucks in which willow clefts are smuggled outside the state. This double smuggling has harmed the bat industry in the state in two ways. First, Indian manufacturers can now have cheap supply of clefts which cost them a bomb earlier because of the ban. Second, the demand for locally-manufactured bats has fallen because more bats are being produced in Punjab and UP because of the ample supply of cheap raw material from the Valley. A smuggler who makes a killing by selling a consignment of charas is more than willing to sell willow clefts very cheap, so much so that local bat manufacturers say that a cleft costs nearly the same in Ludhiana as in Anantnag. The state had banned the export of willow clefts to promote the local industry. Violators can be punished with a maximum prison term of three years and fined up to Rs 1 lakh. Shakeel Ahamd Dar, whose family pioneered manufacturing of bats in the Valley in the 1960s, said that since smuggling willow clefts has become easier, drug smugglers would have sensed an opportunity. Dar said the local manufacturers were not able to compete with Indian bat manufacturers who have means and money to produce millions of bats and need not place orders with local manufacturers. Local manufactures say Indian bat manufacturers are provided subsidy on import of willow clefts from England, but their frontline bat manufacturing is driven by Kashmir willow, as the bats so produced are cost-effective than their those made from English willow. Nazir Ahmad Salroo, president Cricket Bat Manufacturers Association, said the cleft-drug smuggling will deal death blow to the local bat industry. 'The mafia enjoys patronage of government officials. The local bat industry faces shortage of clefts after last year's floods but the clefts are being easily smuggled out of the state. Our profits have fallen,' he said. Salroo said local manufacturers were expecting a hike in demand for bats in both international and domestic markets ahead of Cricket World Cup, and urged authorities to crack down on the mafia.