Warming Up To Wool

J&K sells 70 per cent of its wool in raw form for lack of processing units. Consultants engaged by the government suggested market intervention, capital infusion and private-public partnership for reviving the sector, reports Tasavur Mushtaq

This yarn is the raw material for all kinds of weaves in Kashmir if they are woollen. KL Image: Farzana Nisar

Long and cold winters in Kashmir make woollen an essential commodity here. Being one of the significant producers of wool Jammu and Kashmir has failed to use its produce for want of infrastructure.

The state produces about 60 lakh kilogram of wool, mostly from crossbred animals and suitable making apparel. Out of available wool, only 30 per cent is used by J&K in the public and private sectors. The rest finds its way in raw form to neighbouring states such as Punjab and Himachal Pradesh for value addition due to inadequate processing facilities in the state. A large quantity of raw wool is also sold to Rajasthan for manufacturing and industrial application.

“Selling raw wool to the outside market results in poor price realization,” says one of the businessmen associated with the trade in the valley. “It also contains a large amount of dust, dirt and vegetable matter adding transportation and handling costs.”

The government seems to be coming to the rescue of the declining traditional activity of Kashmir. “Subsidies are not a permanent solution,” Chief Minister Omar Abdullah reportedly said in a Cabinet meeting.  “A long-term road map needs to be framed for the revival of the woollen sector and advised engagement of reputed and national level consultants,” he said.

The government is engaging a national-level consultant to suggest measures to revive the ailing sector.

The Central Sheep and Wool Research Institute (CSWRI) Avikanagar was appointed as consulting agency after an MoU (Memorandum of understanding) was signed between CSWRI and J&K Sheep and Sheep Products Development Board (JKSSPDB).

Before signing the MoU, Dr SA Karim, Director CSWRI along with Dr D B Shakyawar, principal scientist and head, of Textile Manufacture and Textile Chemistry visited the units of JKI, JKSSPDB, JK Handloom Development Corporation (HDC) in February 2011.

Consultants analyzed the state and status of the sector in the state and submitted a detailed project report “revival of J&K woollen industries” on Jul 26, 2011, to the state government. “It was an uphill task, since; the woollen sector of the state is widely spread among different organizations. We have made our sincere effort to come out with a viable solution for reviving the woollen industry of the state,” writes Dr Karim.

The report suggests that there is an urgent need to set up a pre-processing unit for scouring and pressing in Srinagar. This will significantly reduce overhead costs on transportation and other handling operation, thus wool will be produced and marketed in the form of scoured wool.

A woman shows pure Pashmina wool in Srinagar on Monday March 8, 2021. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

In its survey, the team was surprised to find that all government and defence personnel of the government of India are using low-quality woollen products made of shoddy/recycled yarn which is not as per BIS standards. “As per BIS standard ‘virgin wool’ should be used for woollen products,” the report points out. Virgin or new wool is a term used to describe wool which has not been previously used in finished products and has not been subjected to any spinning or felting processes other than required in the manufacturing of the product. The consumption of shoddy products on the other hand is helping the economy of other countries.

The blankets are generally made of shoddy yarn manufactured at Panipat and Ludhiana using rags and other woollen products imported from developed countries. Imported at a cheap price, these rags are garnetted and converted into recycled wool, adversely affecting the utilization of domestically produced wool. The team found that there is neither a proper policy on utilization nor a plan for monitoring of the production of shoddy blankets.

To avoid such situations, the report suggests that the state government should encourage the marketing of woollen products made of virgin wool produced in J&K state only and control purchase for its own consumption in the department of police, health, forest and others. These departments purchase a large number of blankets and other woollen products from the open market. In an estimate provided by the state government, about two to three lakh blankets and one to two lakh meters of woollen cloth are required by J&K government departments every year. A similar quantity is also consumed by central government departments for its paramilitary forces. To meet this requirement, about 10 lakh kg of wool for blankets and one to two lakh kg of wool for woollen clothing are required.

The consultants have stressed the urgent need for state government intervention to develop a system to procure woollen cloth made of virgin wool of J&K in place of recycled wool of shoddy quality.

A master weaver, Manzoor makes a selection of the coloured fiber for his blanket’s border. These borders are literal signatures of the craftsmen. In certain cases, these act as sort of Geographic Indication with people able to read which border belongs to which area. KL Image: Farzana Nisar

The proposed intervention will ensure the utilization of 10-12 lakh kg of indigenous wool.  The procurement will favour price realization as well as economic benefits to poor sheep farmers.  The activity is believed to revitalize assets lying idle and help in the generation of employment in the state. “In the said venture about six lakh man-days will be generated for providing employment to about 5000-6000 persons in a year,” the report reads.

In absence of an organized structure for the processing of raw wool, there is no choice but to sell the raw wool to outside traders. About 50 per cent of the wool produced annually is of combable length having a mean fibre length of more than 45mm. The rest of the 50 per cent is of carding type having a mean fibre length of less than 45 mm.

About 50 to 60 per cent of the wool produced in J&K is having a fineness of 21-25 microns while the rest of the wool is in the range of 25-32 microns. The combing type of wool with a relatively lower fibre diameter can be used for combing purposes and the wool tops so produced can be consumed for making worsted suiting after blending with imported wool having longer and finer microns for enhancing the quality and look of the fabric. This activity is carried out outside the state as there are no combing facilities available in the state but the bulk of finished product finds their market in the valley.

The only portion of wool produced in the state is used for felting into Namdha making which is used locally and also exported to European countries.  “Local consumption of the wool produced in the state is limited to the making of Namdhas and to some extent cheddars and local patto (tweed),” reads the report. The local consumption of the wool produced in the state is not more than 30 to 40 per cent.

Various organizations involved in the processing of wool in both private and public sectors are making losses. The Sheep husbandry department, JKSSPDB, J&K Industries, HDC, and Directorate of Handloom are the organizations which due to poor financial resources, non-availability of technical manpower, and poor linkage among these agencies contribute to the very low efficiency of laid down machinery.

The team monitored the state and status of these units and suggested measures to be implemented on the ground.


To avoid the exploitation of sheep farmers by middlemen, the state government set up an autonomous organization ‘JKSSPDB (wool board) in 1980. This was done in order to procure wool strictly from the original breeders. The present mandate of the board is the procurement of wool from primary producers at the prevailing market rate and its grading, scouring and combing before it is sold within and outside the state.

The board,  in order to carry out work established forty-two seasonal procurement centres. Facilitating the breeder to sell their wool at doorstep, board organized collection of wool through wool collectors. The consultancy found this arrangement good enough to continue.  The report suggests moving from using daily wagers for grading to the contractual productivity-linked arrangement to minimize costs. The consultants found that on average two lakh kgs of wool is being procured/graded/sold per annum.

This quantity is too less than expected keeping in view the infrastructure/manpower and other facilities.  “Taking into account 2.00 lakh kg wool procurement and sale by the board, the board hardly gets earning of Rs15.00 lakhs per annum as compared to expenditure,” reads the report.


The consultants recommended the expansion of the board’s procurement capacity to 10 lakh kgs per annum. “This will reduce overhead costs and earnings will grow to Rs 75 lakhs per annum,” the report said.

The team reasoned that since the board is engaged in social activity/ social security, the establishment cost on account of the salary of permanent employees should be paid by the government under non-plan. The earnings made by the board should be used for the enhancement of the revolving fund required for strengthening its activities. For setting up a scouring plant and other facilities about 100 lakh are required. To meet up financial requirements, the board suggested that 50 lakh may be provided by the J&K government and a matching grant of 50 lakh may be taken from Central Wool Development Board( CWDB).

The report estimates that for wool procurement/ grading and marketing the board requires about Rs. 250 lakhs additional funds under the revolving fund scheme. The board suggested that Rs. 200 lakhs may be provided by the J&K government and Rs 50 lakhs may be provided by CWDB under the wool marketing scheme. In addition, Rs 50 lakhs will be required for installing additional bailing and pressing machines.


The woollen industry in J&K has been established in early 1960. Having worsted mill, composite mill and shoddy plant under its banner, these mills were fulfilling the requirement of the state in terms of woollen yarn and products. After 1990 with open marketing, shoddy was imported at a large scale and converted into shoddy products. It adversely affected woollen activities in J&K.

The observers found conflict in the region as other major stumbling blocks in the growth of the woollen sector as “industrial activity slowed down”. This resulted in most of the units turning sick for want of raw material. The team found that the woollen industry was run by permanent employees which adversely worked to poor productivity and made the units unviable. The consultants recommended running these units under ‘public-private-partnership mode’.


Under J&K Industries, Bemina Mills was established during 1970-74 as a composite woollen mill comprising spinning, weaving and finishing machinery with a capacity of 1.58 lakh meters per year on a single shift of eight hours per day. The mill was not functional when the consultants visited it. The mill as per experts could be run by JKI having 110 skilled/technical manpower on its roll. Additional technical manpower like a weaving master for Sulzer, finishing master, and spinning master may be hired on a contractual basis.


The government spinning mills at Nowshera Srinagar was set up in 1959-60 to cater to the demand of raffle yarns of 48s required by private/ government handloom/power loom owners of the state. Till 1980 the mill enjoyed a sort of monopoly. The unit was having capacity of 1.5 lakh kgs of yarn per annum. However, under the Open General License (OGL) import of wool in the year 1980, the spinning mills lost this leverage. This paved way for traders/ spinners to import wool tops on their own. The mill faced tough competition with private operators in the trade resulting in losses.

The mills are almost non-functional for the last 15 years. The experts suggest, “Looking into the present position and age of machinery installed in the mill, the revival of the mill in present shape is not feasible.” The team recommends that machines in good condition may be shifted to Bemina Mill as per requirement. Worsted yarn manufacturing activities may be consolidated at Bemina and the rest of the machines should be written off and sold through auction. To use the land the team opines, the valuable land may be utilized for installing ultra modern state of art units of worsted yarn from Australian merino wool under public-private partnership mode inviting direct investment from private entrepreneurs providing land on lease.”


The plant has a facility for woollen spinning only. Reportedly the plant can produce 20000 kg yarn per month if it functions in three shifts. The shoddy spinning project was set up by J&K Industries limited at Srinagar in 1985-86 and commissioned in 1987-88. Production activities in the unit were stopped since there are no technical/ skilled workers available. JKI as per experts has never been in a position to operate the factory at its projected capacity, thus incurring heavy loss. The team found that the machinery installed at the mill is in quite a good condition and can be operated with minor maintenance. The experts recommended running this unit for the manufacturing of yarn for blankets utilizing wool produced in the state.


Set up in 1981, the objective of HDC was to promote the handloom sector of the state. The corporation has been one of the largest consumers of the wool produced domestically for manufacturing of various products like tweeds, blankets, chadders and lohies. JKHDC comprises a full sledge design centre, a well-equipped testing laboratory, a common facility centre for warping and ample preparation on a handloom. It has four common facility centres facilitating about 150 weavers of the state.

The experts identified a lack of working capital and marketing of its products as major issues faced by HDC. “Looking into the present situation of the corporation, the need is to have assured market and working capital to utilize its assets effectively,” reads the report. The team observed that for an assured market of woollen products government intervention is essential.

By Production 100 thousand blankets per year and with a Rs 20 profit per blanket, the corporation can generate a profit of Rs 20 lakh per annum, the report says.

To sustain its activity a matching grant equivalent to the profit earned should be provided by the government suggests the team of experts. HDC, the team recommends should participate in wool/ expo fairs. This activity can enhance the sale to the tune of Rs 50 lakh and the profit made will be about 5-10 lakhs.  Similarly, HDC should start its franchise in different cities of northern states under public-private partnership mode. This is believed to enhance the sale of products by the tune of 100-50 lakhs annually and earnings will be about 10-15 lakhs. All these measures will help HDC to earn about 40-50 lakhs per annum and sustain its activity.


With the change in an economic and social scenario, it has become essential to restructure the woollen sector to make it more viable, competitive and accountable. The immediate action prescribed by experts is to target procurement of 10 lakh kg of wool by the board in the next three years and have a wool scouring unit with a capacity of 1000 kg per day at Srinagar.

The locals believe that the main hindrance is the selfishness of people who are in the trade. “We always go for shortcuts forgetting that what comes easily goes easily, says Ghulam Qadir Mir a septuagenarian living in the vicinity of Nowshera. “Let us hope this time it clicks,” he added.


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