Winds of Change

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With the setting up of an Industrial Estate, Lassipora seemingly has undergone palpable socio-economic change. Alongside tangible infrastructure improvements, the locals are happy about the employment opportunities this estate has generated. Muhammad Younis spends time in the area to understand what the buzz is all about

The outer gate of Lassipora's SIDCO. KL Image: Muhammad Younis

The outer gate of Lassipora’s SIDCO. KL Image: Muhammad Younis

The clocks just tick past 10 am when people in droves from across the Kashmir flock the Industrial Estate of Lassipora, located at the border of Pulwama and Shopian districts. Boarded in their personal vehicles, some are well suited up, and others, in casuals, on foot.

The shops lined along the road up to the main gate of the estate shutter up a while before. Ranging from tea-stalls to selling hardware, they belong mostly to the inhabitants of the village Lassipora and the adjoining Petipora hamlet. Apart from running their own stores, the owners have rented out a portion of them to people from other places. For most of the day, these shops remain busy.

A few decades ago, passing through this place, there was nothing significant to see at the particular spot apart from a couple of shops, set on one side of the rutted road, selling mostly groceries to the local populace. The winds of change for this locality started blowing with the establishment of this estate.

Though the foundation was laid in 1984, it took its own time to come up. It was a vast piece of land. Initially, the government earmarked 6,193 kanals for the estate, of which 3,675 kanal was handed to State Industrial Development Corporation (SIDCO) for allotment. It took more than 15 years for the estate to get operational. Once it took off, there was no looking back.

From a few industrial units, the estate grew up to hundreds. As a result of it, the immediate neighbourhood witnessed an abrupt socio-economic change. Infrastructure, in and around the estate, underwent tangible change. New roads were built. A new drainage system was put in place. Fresh water lines were laid and this could be one of the few places that have an uninterrupted power supply, round the clock. The most palpable change was the generation of employment, even unlettered could get work here.

“If you don’t have a job.You can come here, and make some easy bucks,” said Asif, a resident. It is a “blessing in disguise”.

It is quite a sight to see people walk past the estate gate and make the way to their respective factories. Some of the well-known units in the estate are polymer, milk processing, plywood, cardboard, leather, food processing, and cold storages.

Currently, there are around 567 industrial units, from small to medium providing livelihood to thousands. More units are in the offing; some of them are at different stages of their implementation. A food park is coming up soon.

Deen Brothers is a milk processing unit here. There is a lot of ebb and flow of trucks near the gate. Some trucks are bringing in raw milk collected from the surrounding areas, while others are on their way to the market with the finished products – curd and toned milk.

Haleeb, the product name, is the result of hard work of about 30 people. “Apart from the skilled workforce, who are required to work in the laboratory and deal with accounts, the rest are unskilled locals from the surrounding areas,” said Azhar, one of the workers.

The raw milk is procured locally and entirely. The rate that the unit provides per litre depends upon the percentage of fat in the milk. “On average, the unit offers Rs 27 per litre, which is slightly better in comparison to local milkmen,” Azhar said. “We are growing, and might employ more people in the near future.”

Al-Noor Cold Storage was established in 2016. These days, there are around 50 men working in the store. The number could go up to more than a hundred, depending upon the need.

“On average, there are around 100 people working here on a daily basis,” said an official, who didn’t want to be named. The workers are from the neighbouring area. He himself is a local. Before getting a job here, he used to work in a multi-national company in Dehli. “We prefer to provide work to our own people,” said the official.

The work at the store involves irregular working hours. It involves grading, packing, loading and unloading of fruits, which local workforce are not familiar with, and besides, they are not used to working in late hours. “In Kashmir, we have a culture of working from 10 am to 6 pm, but our kind of work requires workers to work in the wee hours. For that very purpose, we are compelled to hire non-locals.”

Government guidelines want every unit to have one non-local for every nine local workers. Official figures suggest that there are more than 10 thousand people working in the estate, including non-locals. But owing to certain reasons like the skill, the willingness to work in odd hours and wage issues, some unit owners have no option but to hire non-locals.

Feroz Ahmad, a resident of Petipora, worked as a labourer in one of the cold stores for two consecutive seasons. When he found his remunerations less than expected, he left the job.

“Normally, for packing a box of apple, labour is given one and a half rupee, but the same was when reduced by 25 paisa, I quit the job,” said he, adding the change occurred because of the availability of the non-locals at the reduced rate.

Feroz is now working as an operator at a nearby BSNL tower. The salary is satisfactory. “The benefit of the estate is that I had an opportunity to choose my work; if it were otherwise I would have had to continue my work knowing I was being exploited.”

Apple cold storage. KL Image: Muhammad Younis

Apple cold storage. KL Image: Muhammad Younis

But for Muhammad Rafiq, the estate Deputy Manager, the reason behind involving more non-locals in the Cold Storages is that after sending the fruit outside, it is needed to be re-packaged for the second time. “Our workforce here is unskilled in the said job, so the idea behind bringing in people from outside the state is to train locals for the same job,” Rafiq said. “We want them (locals) to learn. Once we are convinced that locals are ready to take up the job, we will have no hesitation in hiring them.”

Rafiq is witness to the change the area has undergone. “Not very long ago, we had to import raw material from other states, now the same material such as cardboard are being manufactured here, which directly or indirectly benefit the local populace, as they are the ones who work in such factories,” he said.

“Locals have bought small and big trucks to ferry things in and out of the estate, and their demand remains high all the time.” And for the repair of these vehicles, a number of automobile workshops have been set up outside the estate as well, “and this way they too get benefitted.”

Rafiq said the fruit growers who had to suffer losses because of the glut in outside markets are now happy. “Not even the C-category fruit gets wasted now as we consume them in juice making; we have many juice making factories here as well,” he said.

On one side while the estate is on way to climb heights, Manzoor Ahmad, an accountant assistant in the estate, said that such process could speed up if the government provides adequate attention to the problems emerging.

Pulwama is deemed as restive and volatile area. On way here, promoters of various units and their workers face hurdles because of frisking and regulation, which is a major discouraging factor. “Our analysis says that the entrepreneurs from other districts who would have been interested in setting up units here get discouraged because of the security reasons so they prefer to establish units outside the state,” said Manzoor.

The non-availability of a native skilled workforce is a crisis for promoters. “The government must ensure more skill development programmes which could put an end to the mass hiring of non-locals,” he added.

For nearly half a year, some plywood factories have remained shut and the main factor is lack of a skilled workforce. Owner of a plywood unit said that his factory is closed for four months now because his non-local workforce had gone home. “After all of my 25 workers returned to their homes, my factory came to a standstill,” he said.

Like this, 267 other industrial units are dysfunctional for many other reasons.

At the same time, there is a problem of land encroachment. Around 1575 kanals of the demarcated land is with encroachers. “If the land is retrieved, more industries could be set up on them, which, in turn, would increase the employment prospects.”

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