Kashmir’s silk industry dying a silent death

By: Mukeet Akmali
Srinagar, Jan 03: Once a major support to state economy, the famed Silk Industry of Kashmir has faced severe decay over the years.
Historians say a century ago Kashmir had dynamic silk trade. “In 1940s, the precious silk yarn produced in Kashmir was exported to entire Europe,” they said.
A cursory look at statistics shows that during its hey day in 1980s, the cocoon production in Kashmir had reached more than 15 lakh kilograms.
Officials say when the silk industry in France was almost wiped out by a disease to the silkworm seed, the country imported material from Kashmir to revive its industry.
But then the time changed for the worse for the Kashmir silk industry. “The cocoon production dropped to 60,000 kgs in late 90s.”
Government’s “negligence” towards protection and development of the silk industry and low market price weaned away the farmers.
Reasons For Decline:
Sources trace the genesis of decline of Kashmir Filatures, a unit of JK Industries Ltd, to de-monopolization of the industry and later its bifurcation into Kashmir Filatures and Sericulture Department.
The de-monopolization paved way for filatures from other states like Mysore, Bengal and Karnataka to buy quality cocoons from Kashmir, leaving little raw material for the Kashmir filatures.
Interestingly, the outside state filatures offered good prices to the farmers here for procuring the cocoons. “The farmers preferred to sell the cocoons to the outside filatures instead of the Kashmir filature,” they said.
Yet, despite seeing the situation, the government did not increase the procurement price of the cocoons. “Per kilogram price of cocoon was not increased for almost two decades by the government. A kilogram of A-Grade cocoon was purchased from the farmers at Rs 180 till 2009,” they said.
“Even at present the government offers Rs 210 per kg cocoons, while in the open market the rates even touch Rs 600 per kg,” sources said.
Quality Material:
“J&K is the only state which produces the best quality Bivoltile silk. But the irony is that less than 30 percent of cocoons produced indigenously are used for silk production locally and the remaining is exported to outside states,” officials said.
Minister Speaks:
Minister for Agriculture Ghulam Hassan Mir sounds optimistic saying “everything is not lost.”
The cocoon production, Mir said, is witnessing an upward trend for past few years.
Giving figures he said: Kashmir produced 738 metric ton cocoon in 2008-09, 810 MT in 2009-10 and 860 MT last fiscal.
The minister said this year so far Kashmir has produced 970 MT.
“The demand for the Bivoltile silk at the country level is above 5000 MT,” he added.

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