Kashmir artisans heaved a sigh of relief after Chennai based GI Registry awarded them an ownership of the craft. Bureaucratic hassles are, however, putting to dust the benefits that craftsmen and traders could reap through the promotion of this brand. Haroon Mirani reports.
Eight months after Kashmiri craftsman were awarded a Geographical Indicator (GI) registration for Kashmir Pashmina, official lethargy hinders the reaping of prospective benefits.
There has been no headway on infrastructural arrangements required for the GI registry execution, such as branding and stamping facility, or fakes detection facility.
Moreover, countries like China are aggressively marketing products in Kashmir Pashmina name making the state lose billions as government has not gone ahead with GI registration of the product in other countries.
The handicraft industry got a boost last September when valley based craftsmen were awarded GI registration for ‘Kashmir Pashmina’ after beating internal opposition and that from Pakistan.
The GI registry inhibits the use of name Kashmir Pashmina or its evocatives like Kashmina or terms used separately by any other company or artisans other than from Kashmir.
Other companies dealing with Pashmina have to specify the details of the products like its origin and mode of production, leaving the speciality of Kashmir Pashmina with the artisans and traders of Valley.
But eight months after the award, the state is in no position to reap the benefits of this act as the further process is caught in the cobweb of state bureaucracy.
The Textile Committee Mumbai had authored a project report for Srinagar based Craft Development Institute (CDI) for setting up of a Pashmina Testing and Research Lab in Kashmir. The sophisticated lab costing Rs 3.8 crore would help in segregating fake Pashmina from real Pashmina. CDI was the first to move the application for a GI registry for Kashmir Pashmina.
“Currently fake Pashmina has achieved newer levels of mastery and one cannot differentiate between the two with naked eyes,” says Ghulam Ahmad, a Pashmina craftsman.
The project report was submitted to government in March, but till date there has been no action. “One of our delegations even met Omar Abdullah, but there is just assurance and nothing beyond that,” says Ahmad.
Lack of branding and promotion of Kashmir Pashmina is a major impediment. The CDI has submitted a proposal to government for labelling of Pashmina products manufactured in Kashmir. The unique project involved identifying real Pashmina and tagging them with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip. The wafer thins chip would be coded with information about the manufacturing source as well as product specifications.
A RFID reader can read the tag anywhere in the world and send the information to a centralised station meant for validating the same. The chip would cost less than Rs 15 per piece. But the government hasn’t taken any initiative.
While the government sleeps over the issue, other countries are trading in the name of Kashmir Pashmina.
CDI says that vast trade is going on in the name of Kashmir Pashmina not only in India but in Nepal and China as well. The latter being the largest exporter of Pashmina products marketed under Kashmir brand.
According to Chennai based Crafts Council of India, fake Kashmir Pashmina shawls are sold at a town called Silk Streets of Hangjhan, 100 miles from Shanghai. The products being sold include shawls, sweaters and mufflers. The report said it was just the tip of the iceberg.
The same is happening in Nepal and to some extent in Pakistan too, where traders are selling the products in the name of Kashmir Pashmina.
According to Pravin Anand of Anand and Anand, the legal counsel for CDI, the misuse of Kashmir Pashmina brand in other countries can be stopped only after Kashmir Pashmina is registered in those countries. After the registration, Anand says, “goods can be ordered to India and have them seized by customs followed by a High Court order. India can then take the case to WTO with full dossier of legal evidence and force China to take action against such traders on its own.”
He says only after such a procedure, Kashmir Pashmina can achieve the monopolistic status. But the process requires lot of money. “Currently we don’t have any money needed to take up such cases,” says M S Farooqui, Director CDI Srinagar.
With a GI Registry Kashmir has a strong legal standing to fight cases at any forum. So far the CDI, with the help of its legal firm, has won two such cases of fake Pashmina trade, including one that involved a foreign designer.
Julie Skarland, Norway based designer had started a project with a Nepal based company Pashmina Norge for producing Pashmina products. The contract had to be terminated after CDI appraised Norwegian embassy and the concerned parties about the status of Kashmir Pashmina brand.
A Mumbai based company Almas Exports and Imports had last year applied for a trade mark Almas Delux Pashmina. They too had to remove their application after CDI filed its objections to the use of this brand.
Apart from infrastructural impediments, a promotion campaign to promote Kashmir Pashmina is also missing. After the curiosity generated by granting of GI registration to Kashmir Pashmina, authorities have not been able to cash on it by going for a promotional drive.
A project of Rs 6 crore for promotion and marketing was prepared but never implemented. Insiders say changes in bureaucracy and subsequent disinterest of successive officers has halted the development of Pashmina industry.
If GI benefits are reaped, the Rs 600 crore shawl industry has the potential of achieving hundred percent growth over the next two years. According to a 2005-06 survey, 1.2 lakh people are associated with this craft. But the influx of fake and cheaper versions of Pashmina has lead to a steady downfall in this centuries old sector.
“There is a growing dissatisfaction with Pashmina trade as artisans get minimal wages and work has been decreasing along with wages,” says Ahmad.
CDI estimates that around 30 per cent of Pashmina artisans have either left or are in the process of leaving their jobs. “The main factor being money, as they earn more in other jobs,” says Farooqi.
A genuine Kashmir Pashmina shawl with intricate embroidery can fetch as much as US$ 7000-10,000 at a high end showroom in Europe.
Realising the potential of Kashmir Pashmina, an international public relations firm Brand Mission had approached authorities in Kashmir with a proposal to start a full-fledged campaign in building this brand globally. After getting caught in red tape the company left frustrated.
The word Pashmina is used so extensively that nowadays every other trader of handicrafts uses term Pashmina on cheap synthetic-fibre shawls as well as on mix of wool and silk fibres. “In the process of upgrading the quality of their cheap stuff they are in reality downgrading the status of real Pashmina,” says Ghulam Muhammad, a Pashmina trader.
Ironically, blueprints for future of Pashmina are drawn, but beyond the paper work nothing has materialised.