Living in a cocoon

The silk industry in Kashmir is in doldrums today, thanks in part to the bifurcation of the sericulture development department in 1972. For the industry, which was once the hallmark of the state, today employee salaries are unpaid for the past six months. Saima Riyaz reports

One of the oldest industries of the state, silk production used to provide employment to thousands of people. But over the years, the industry witnessed a huge downfall.

An abandoned building of Silk Factory in Srinagar.

“Negligence, politics and excuses by the officials has lead to the closure of Government Silk Filatures, Rambagh – which was booming once,” says Ghulam Nabi, Staff President and Assistant Supervisor at the Government Silk Filatures, Rambagh, Srinagar. “But the biggest reason for this dire state was the bifurcation,” he adds.

Prior to 1972, all activities were managed by the Sericulture Developmat ent Department, but that year, the department was bifurcated into Sericulture and Kashmir Filature. This, according to the employees was a big set back to the silk production in Kashmir.

“We had 1830 employees working on 584 basins in 1947 which was reduced to 817 workers on 312 basins but now only 30 basins have remained, employees have been reduced to 200, people are retiring and new appointments are out of question,” says Ghulam Nabi. According to him, the employees have not been paid for the last six months.

Another reason cited by him for the breakdown of the silk industry in Kashmir is de-monoplolization, wherein filatures from other states like Mysore, Bengal, Karnataka etc, come to buy quality Kashmiri cocoons at prices which are too high for the Rambagh filature. “These buyers are supported by their state governments financially,” adds Ghulam Nabi. But according to the sericulture department the rates are reasonable. This has led to a situation where the Rambagh filature gets almost no supply from the sericulture department.

“In the heydays of silk production, mulberry trees were cultivated in the nursery of Solina, Yarn was made in the filature and from this yarn silk cloth was made by Rajbagh Silk Weaving Factory,” says another employee of the Rambagh filature.

“Today silk business is running due to private growers. Department of Sericulture holds an auction of cocoons in July to September in Kashmir and in June in Jammu. Private companies of Kashmir and people from outside especially from Bengal get cocoons; make yarn and cloth in their own private units,” says Ghulam Nabi.

The Kashmir silk was once holding a significant position in the world due to its inherent superior characteristics and luster but the industry is on a decline.

While officials allege that lack of skilled labour is a major cause, the employees reject this charge. “New technology invented in any area can be learned. In every field, employee skills are upgraded with new technology by giving them training,” they said.

“Government talks about starting new enterprises but ruined a well established business. Silk of Kashmir is known all over the world but the policy of the government has ruined it. Department of Sericulture does not give revenue to the government except little percentage of seeds, and it is thriving, but our working business is stopped,” said the employees.

“Politics has ruined this trade as it ruined everything. Everybody is after this land. Some of it has already been sold to Public Service Commission and Power Development Department. Also some political parties want it to establish their colonies and they see the land of the filature, due to the security blanket it is covered under, as the ideal place,” say the employees.

Instead of pondering over the ways and measures for furthering employment generation, the employees of the Silk Filature say, the authorities are planning to sell the assets of the Filature.

Silk cloth production of Rajbagh Silk Weaving Factory totally depends on heavy import today. “It would have been better to get the raw material from the Filature, as it used to be, but currently the production has stopped as the filature is defunct. Therefore we get raw material from private parties, locals and from Jammu,” says Muhammad Afzal, Incharge Manager at Rajbagh Silk Factory.

While factories, working or defunct, are concerned about the business, the Department of Sericulture is not bothered about the closure of the filature. “The price of the silk depends on the national and international market and the trade is not affected by the closure of Silk Filature, Rambagh,” says Nazir Ahmad, Incharge Technical Section at Additional Directorate of Sericulture Development Department, Kashmir.

“We continue to get cocoons from local people and the number of people involved is increasing. In 2009-10 the number of Sericultural villages was 774 and total number of people (male and female) silk worm rearers was 6541 which has increased to 7497 people in 900 Sericultural villages in 2010-11,” he added.
As per the data compiled by the Department of Sericulture in the year 2009-10, the annual cocoon production in Kashmir Division was 262 metric tons per year and income generation was 285 lakh rupees. This has increased to 286 metric tons per year with income generation increasing to 308 lakh rupees.

There are a few centrally sponsored schemes also, through which people are encouraged to go for this trade. “We provide facilities to poor people who are involved in this trade. Till now CGI sheets worth rupees 17000 to erect a shed, 5000 in cash, rearing kit worth rupees 2000 and Health Insurance Scheme for women have been provided,” said Farooq Ahmad, Sericulture Assistant at Additional Directorate of Sericulture Development Department, Srinagar.

Seeds are stored in cold storage and distributed by the Department of Sericulture among silk worm rearers of Kashmir in April. “Every village has an incubation centre where silk worms hatch for 10 to 12 days. Farmers get their cocoons to auction market where they are sold as per their quality. P1 is a superior, A-grade variety which is sold at Rs 600 to 800 per kg and is preserved in the cold storage,” says Farooq Ahmad, Sericulture Assistant, Additional Directorate of Sericulture Development Department, Srinagar.

While employees working in Government Silk Filatures, Rambagh are expecting an opportunity to save their livelihood and the trade, the authorities have their own plans to keep the silk business going. “We make plain fabric, and send some plain cloth for printing which is done outside Kashmir. Initially printing department was here but now due to some problem it has been closed down,” says Muhammad Afzal, Incharge Manager at the Raj-Bagh Silk Factory.
Currently the Rajbagh Silk Weaving Factory is not fully equipped and functional though measures are being taken to make it so. “Revival process is going on. Central silk board is working on the project report which will be helpful to make the factory fully operational. Infrastructure will be upgraded and new machines will be installed,” he said.

Rajbagh Silk Weaving Factory has now decided to add a filature facility. “Thread was made in Rambagh Filature but now we will set up our own basin and make our own yarn. It will take care of our need of raw material and the factory will be operational again,” Muhammad Afzal added.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here