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The once cherieshed silk industry in Kashmir is going through a crisis but the governemnt is keen to revive this sector by promoting large scale propagation of mulberry trees. Idle pieces of land are being alloted to ..

20 Nov 2012

By ML Dhar
Silk has been one of the cherished heritages of Jammu and Kashmir with sericulture activity in the valley finding mention in ancient Sanskrit scriptures including Rajtarangni. The queen of the fabrics, Kashmir Silk has ever cherished the passion of consumers for its lustre, purity and fineness.

During the medieval times silk production in Kashmir received a big boost with Sultan Zain-ul Abideen also known as ''Budshah'' (the Great King) giving special attention to this sector and introducing new improved techniques to make it a booming industry. However, during the Afghan rule in Kashmir, the fledging industry terribly suffered, but the Dogra rulers in early 19th century once more revived the sericulture sector to emerge it as the flagship of Kashmir's economy. By the first half of 20th century, Kashmir had a dynamic silk trade with its precious silk yarn exported not only to the entire British Empire but also to whole of Europe.

Sericulture is a labour intensive cottage industry combining both agriculture and industry. It is the only one cash crop in agriculture sector that gives returns within 30 days. “Kashmir had its indigenous races of silkworm and produced best quality cocoons in the world”, said an official associated with the sericulture sector.

Silk rearing, the main stays of the state's economy till over two decades ago, is unfortunately in shambles today. According to the available statistics the cocoon production in Kashmir dropped to 60,000 kgs in late 90s after having touched more than 15 lakh kilograms during 1980s.

The reasons for Kashmir silk industry falling on bad days are varied. It is widely contended that de-monopolization of the industry and bifurcation of Kashmir Filatures from the Sericulture Department led to the decline in the use of cocoons locally. The outside traders took advantage of the situation due to the non-increase of cocoon prices. These traders lured cocoon rearers with quite high prices to sell their produce to them leaving very little raw material for the Kashmir filatures. “Per kilogram cost of cocoon was not increased for almost two decades. 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.

Kashmir Filatures, which had its origin in 1897 with Italian reeling basins, was transferred to JK Industries Ltd in 1963. It had an installed capacity of 584 reeling basins, employing over 2000 workers. These were the days of “dynamic silk trade” in Kashmir. Alas, the spinning wheels at Kashmir Filatures stand virtually silenced. The de-monopolization of Kashmir Filatures starved it of the raw material (cocoons), as a result, the Filatures shrank from hundreds of reeling basins to mere 31 in 2008-09.

Consequently, the raw silk production fell alarmingly and even in the recent years the trend has not been enthusing with production of 8.2 metric tonnes (MT) in 2004-05 going upto 21.2 MT in 2007-08 but again falling to 17.1 MT in 2008-09. ''Jammu and Kashmir is the only state which produces the best quality Bivoltine silk. But the irony is that less than 30 percent of cocoons produced indigenously are used for silk production locally and the remaining produce is picked up by the outside traders,'' officials said. Private rearers of the state consume 25 percent of locally produced cocoons and this has kept the silk industry going in the state.

The local carpet weaving units prefer low quality Chinese silk yarn to indigenous silk being cost effective. This has also hit the indigenous silk industry.

Moreover, mulberry cultivation, which is the source of mulberry leaves on which the silk worms thrive, also suffered and got confined to 173 departmental mulberry nurseries spread over a meagre area of 963 acres. All these factors and low market prices of cocoons weaned away the farmers from this sector. According to reports, the number of cocoon rearers has declined from 60,000 in 1947 to 2,500 in 2011. These have adversely affected the forward and backward linkages in the industry.
Nevertheless, ''not all is lost'' says Agriculture and Sericulture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir, who, sounding optimistic, adds that the sun may again shine on the silk industry of Kashmir. Basing his optimism on an upward trend for past few years He said that Kashmir produced 738 metric ton (MT) cocoons in 2008-09, 810 MT in 2009-10 and in the last fiscal 970 MT worth eleven crore rupees''.

Sericulture Minister Mir is of the view that the sector holds great promise for employment generation and as such, the government has embarked on a number of measures for reviving the sector. These include large scale propagation of mulberry trees. In this connection the government has embarked on an innovating scheme of allotting idle pieces of land to various groups comprising unemployed youth in villages for planting mulberry trees.

The Sericulture Department has already started this scheme on the 24 km road to Tangmarg, the base camp of the tourist resort Gulmarg. Riaz Ahmad, a science graduate, who is one of the 30- member group planting mulberry saplings, said, “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."

The Department is also distributing seeds and mulberry plants free of cost to farmers and supplements them with seven rupees per plant. “We also provide financial support of Rs 50,000 to each family associated with the sector for developing infrastructure for cocoon production besides insurance cover to the family,” the Minister said. He said that the farmers are being assisted with the latest drying techniques which help in maintaining the quality of the product.

Additional director, Sericulture Department, Dr Malik Farooq told a local daily, “We have many strategies in our list which will revive the silk industry.” The Minister described the production as well as the cost of the cocoon having gone up this year as “a healthy trend.” It is hoped that this healthy trend will once again bloom the state's silk industry to secure its past glory.
(PIB Features)

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