‘We Want Willow Cleft Smuggling To Be Strictly Curbed’

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Ghulam Qadir Bhat, the leader of Kashmir’s bat manufacturers tells Waseem Dar

Ghulam Qadir Bhat

KASHMIR LIFE (KL): What is the state and status of bat industry in Kashmir right now?

GHULAM QADIR BHAT (GQB): It is satisfactory for now. The sales spike during summers in general and on special occasions like the World Cup in particular. The 2019 turmoil affected it but we hope for the forthcoming summer.

Some 450 manufacturing units are currently working with turn over in crores of rupees. Almost 20 to 25 workers work with every manufacturer.

KL: What is the state of infrastructure that the government build over the yearscricket 

GQB: J&K Small Scale Industries Development Corporation Limited (SICOP) had developed a facilitation center in Bijbehara but that failed to cater to our needs. We tried working there but the location proved to our disadvantage. Later it was taken over by the army making it impossible to reconsider working there.

KL: Any other facility that was developed after that?

GQB: Yes, one more center was developed at Pujiteng Sangam but of no use. Although meant for seasoning only, most of its machinery is defective. Also, the manufacturers can’t bear the expenses it demands. Now we have suggested to the government in this regard and we expect the issues to be fixed but the main problem persists. The center is low-lying and prone to floods. In fact, the 2014 floods made it unusable for now.

KL: What is the number of people associated with the bat industry directly and which places in Kashmir produce bats?

GQB: More than 10,000 people earn their living from this sector directly. Most of the units are situated along the National Highway from Sangam to Awantipora. Jammu also has manufacturing units but they depend on us for raw material as willow is grown here only.

KL: What is the quantum of willow required in a year? Are there any raw material issues?

GQB: You can calculate it from our annual production. Many larger units produce even more than 50,000 bats a year but most of us produce, on average, not less than 20,000 each.

Willow trees are dwindling fast. People prefer growing poplar over willow due to its faster growth and there is no one to stop it. We have suggested the government to work for willow plantations in many state-owned lands. We are even ready to work on some partnership basis with the government for this.

KL: What is the state of movement of a willow cleft? Tell us about the journey.

GQB: The willow is cut into logs, then into clefts and stacked for open-air seasoning. It is the routine cycle. When one batch reaches the final stage of production, there is another ready in the pipeline to be taken in for processing.

KL: Jammu & Kashmir government had earlier banned the export of willow cleft. What were the reasons and what do you suggest now?

GQB: It was due to the government willing to restrict the benefit of local willow production to the natives. But cases of smuggling have been found, unfortunately. We want the ban to stay and smuggling to be strictly curbed.

KL: Are there any skill deficits that Kashmir’s bat industry has to manage now?

GQB: We have all kinds of machines available to us. There is no problem with finding workers as well. But some materials like rubber grips, stickers, adhesives and thread is obtained from outside the state. We need to think about it.

KL: How do you compare the bat industry of Kashmir with that of other places like Jalandhar and Meerut, in terms of quality, technology, and market?

GQB: We are at par with them in terms of quality and technology but certain things keep us lagging. Willow production is unique to us and we have an extended market in mainland India but transporting our product there is not so easy. Road transport costs much and we are not connected to the mainland by railway yet.

KL: Has Kashmiri bat any scope of export? If yes, why are there no exporters here?

GQB: It happens quite often that exporters from outside states, who themselves do not manufacture bats, buy our product and export it under their own brand names. The government should have given us licenses to do so ourselves. We have educated youth in this industry now. We suggest the government to train them in matters related to exports. A tour to outside places may give them some know-how.

KL: How the government should keep the Kashmir’s bat industry thriving?

GQB: Government has declared the Sangam to Awantipora stretch to be an industrial estate. This shouldn’t be kept limited to records only. We demand industrial facilities like round-the-clock electricity, better roads, generators, and other subsidies. Lessening the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to attract buyers from outside can greatly help. Demand for a dispensary to treat accidental injuries caused in the factories was also made. Attention should be given to the dwindling production of willow and plans for fresh plantation should be made. Lastly, the government should take us on board to know better what has to be done.

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