Between a Rock and a Hard Place

A marble manufacturing unit has been lying unused for a quarter of a century, depriving locals of a livelihood. As Mudasir Majeed reports, the government’s apathy seems to be as tough to crack as the marble itself.

For the last 25 years, hundreds of families in Drugmulla have had their livelihoods snatched from them. The Drugmulla-Kupwara Marble Manufacturing Unit, owned by JK minerals, has been in abeyance since 1985. Due to official apathy, no work has been carried out at this factory since then. When the government notified the marble land, nearly 20 stone quarries were banned—closing off an area of nearly 14 acres. As a result 200 to 300 families were deprived of their basic means of earning almost overnight.

The JK Minerals Drugmulla Marble Factory was established in 1979. It operated seemingly smoothly for the first five years. According to officials from the factory, at that time, marble manufacturing took place at a reasonable pace. But in 1985, they encountered technical difficulties in the factory’s apparatus, and so it stopped functioning. This resulted in constant pressure from locals to repair the equipment and restart the factory. However, locals say that officials kept evading the issue, and kept presenting one excuse after another.

“The real reason behind the factory’s closure was the eruption of militancy in 1989,” says Muhammad Sultan, a factory employee. Sultan has been guarding the facility for 28 years now. “The JK Minerals authorities would have overhauled the factory equipment, but militancy dashed every such hope,” he says. “They (militants) used to take shelter inside the factory. This stopped every function in it.”

Factory employees claim they have repeatedly asked authorities to restart the facility, but there was no response. They also say that higher officials have visited the factory just a few times in more than twenty years. Employees and residents of Drugmulla say that the Minerals Department seems to have failed in achieving any benefit from the factory. Despite a massive investment on the government to construct a huge factory, there have apparently only been massive losses related to this project.

The Drugmulla-Kupwara Marble Manufacturing Unit has a sizeable population in its vicinity. Roughly 300 families would rely on this unit to earn their livelihoods. Many would work from dawn to dusk in the stone quarries which are currently banned. The factory had permanent employees, but others would also earn money from it by engaging in manual labor.

Residents say they are the ones who have been most affected by the government’s “dual policy.” Ghulam Mohammad Peer owns a stone quarry that has been banned. He says, “On one side, our stone quarries were banned, which axed the livelihood of nearly 300 families. On the other side, we were fed with sugar-coated pills, because when the factory was established, the JK Minerals authorities would say that this marble unit would be a big project and would generate employment for a large group of people here. We are now in a state of despair.”

The loss of livelihood has had a trickle-down effect on the education of children in this region as well. Residents say they had no option but to stop their children from going to school due to the rising financial strains, caused mainly due to the blanket ban on their stone quarries and of the eventual closing down of the factory. In nearly 300 families whose incomes were hit due to the above reasons, just about eight people have completed graduation.

“None of my children could continue schooling,” says Habibullah, who used to be a laborer in a stone quarry. “I have two sons and four daughters. I could only afford schooling for just one. He too, against his will, had to leave school later when he was in 10th. The reason was pathetic—financial circumstances at home, brought upon by the government’s ill-disposed approach towards us,” he said.

Surprisingly, there are about 106 Kanals of marble land registered in documents. Of these, just two Kanals are under the factory at this time, and the other 104 Kanals have been forcibly grabbed by locals. Employees say they could not fight with the local residents when they would encroach upon the marble land. The employees claim they did inform police, but no action was taken.

“People here don’t listen to any rules,” says a factory employee. “They fight with us if we ask them to vacate the marble land. They have planted walnut and apple trees. They have fenced off several patches of land which belong to the factory, as that is their own property. We talked to the police about this several times,” he adds. “In fact many cases are registered against many encroachers in the Kupwara Police Station, but they are not bothered. The police too is sleeping,” he said.

Sources tell Kashmir Life that the government has given land on lease to some entrepreneurs. But they have not paid the lease for several years now, and are seemingly still enjoying their free business of land mining.

“The entrepreneurs, who have taken land on lease, have not paid any money towards government. They hardly pay a very meager amount. There is a tremendous loss to marble because of them. They crush down the big marble blocks and sell them as rough stone, which is infringement of government rules.

They only are allowed to dig out rubber and rough stones. But no one is asking them any questions,” revealed a source.“The government had swung into action a month ago, after constantly getting complaints about the crushing of marble block into rough stone. So it banned those stone mines,” said an employee here.

The factory employees have not sold any of the marble sheets which were manufactured during the time when it was actively functioning. 28-year-old marble, worth perhaps six to seven lakhs is still lying in the factory, and has not been sold to anyone.

Residents of Drugmulla allege that JK Minerals officials have maintained complete silence towards this project. “They never come to observe the condition of this project .Its closure has stopped the livelihood of a vast population. The stone quarries are banned. On all sides we have been chained, “ says Ghulam Ahmad, a local.

Factory authorities have been repeatedly giving people assurances that “this matter is under consideration” but locals argue that officials have never considered it.Ghulam Mohammed Peer, head of the Stone Quarry Holders Association, says he has been following this case for the last twenty five years but nothing has changed.

“Whosoever the Chief Minister has elected here in last twenty five years, I have passed the memorandum to him regarding this factory and the ban on stone quarries, but no one has cared,” Peer said.

It is evident that people here have been through a very rough time, as this was their only readily available source of income. But now they are fed up of every regime, as none has been able to resolve their concerns.

At one time, the Drugmulla-Kupwara Marble Manufacturing Unit would be a shelter for militants. But today, it is simple a shelter for a large number of birds. The insides of the entire factory, from top to bottom, are stained with bird droppings. Not a single windowpane or grill exists to pose a sense of security. Makeshift windows have been made with wires. All this keeping in mind that there are six employees to “guard” the factory.

When a senior official of JK Minerals was asked about the overall issue of this factory, he said he is on tour, and so he can’t furnish any details in this regard.

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