Brothers leaving no stone unturned

“The idea to install such kind of plant in Kashmir, came to me during my last year of engineering course,” says 30-year-old Ubaid, who is BTech in metallurgy and material sciences from NIT, Srinagar.

INAM UL HAQ
Srinagar, Publish Date: Sep 25 2017 11:37PM | Updated Date: Sep 25 2017 11:37PM
Brothers leaving no stone unturnedGK Photo

From times immemorial Kashmir has the tradition of using stones as building material in public structures as well as in private homes. The ancient monuments, like those in Awantipora or the medieval times Pather Masjid in Srinagar are living example of strength, durability and excellent weather resisting qualities, besides the elegance and grandeur.

Until a century ago, Kashmir’s majority of houses were a combination of stone and wood. However, with the introduction of clay bricks, which are relatively cheap, less labour intensive and easy to comply by structural standards, the use of stones in majority of buildings, particular private houses, was reduced to foundation and some aesthetic aspects only.

Though, the stones are found in abundance in Kashmir, but due to extensive labour requirement for chiselling and shaping, use of masonry stones has become very expensive in Kashmir, affordable to a small section of the society. 

But, now two engineer brothers have taken it upon themselves to change this all. By introducing Kashmir’s first mechanised stone quarrying and processing unit, L Crystal, they are cutting and dressing stones to fulfil the demand of modern-day masonry stones, which are durable, affordable and blend with Kashmir’s tradition of using natural stones.

“Use of traditional stone was becoming day-by-day rare here due to number of reasons. Chiselling and shaping of the stone manually by traditional means is highly labour intensive, so is its laying, which needs talented artistry and precision, making it extremely costly, and then due to odd shapes and sizes of stones there is danger of structural lacunae in the buildings,” says elder brother Ubaid Mehraj, the founder of L Crystals.  

However, with the use of cutting-edge technology, L Crystals is offering top quality masonry stones in all traditional segments with easy to install solution without any compromise on structural quality and durability at much lesser price than the hand chiselled stones.

“The idea to install such kind of plant in Kashmir, came to me during my last year of engineering course,” says 30-year-old Ubaid, who is BTech in metallurgy and material sciences from NIT, Srinagar.

“My final project was about the quality of Kashmir’s stone resources and its scientific quarrying, and during the research and field work for my project, I got the idea about opening this unit.”

Soon after completion of his degree from NIT in 2010, Ubaid went for internships in different marble and stone plants in Rajasthan and Gujarat to learn, how to mine, how to saw and what kind of machinery is required for establishing such a plant.  

“After the internships and lot of research, in 2011, I decided to go for the project and started the process of establishing the unit by acquiring the land at Khonmoh industrial area,” says Ubaid, adding, Khonmoh has two advantages: it is near to mining sites, as well as, very close to national heavy, as access to mobility is very important to such kind of plant.

Though, Ubaid went through the EDI route for financing his project, but the initial amount approved by the Entrepreneurship Development Institute was Rs 7 lakh as seed capital and Rs 20 lakh as a soft loan but this was not enough for the Ubaid’s project, which needed costly machinery and could not start with less than Rs 70 lakh.

“I was lucky as a private investor got motivated to invest a portion of the required amount and then I directly approached the J&K Bank and discussed my project proposal with them. They took a compassionate view on my project and raised my loan amount from initial Rs 25 lakh to Rs 1.5 crore without asking for any mortgage or guarantor, which I could not have been able to provide at that time,” says Ubaid.   

Meanwhile, Ubaid’s younger brother Shuja Hussain, who completed his BTech in computer engineering from Islamic University of Science and Commerce, Awantipora also joined him and took over some of the responsibilities.

In 2013, L Crystals was commissioned for the production. First it started with the production of granite but later brothers decided to venture into traditional masonry stones, where they saw huge potential. “Though, we were first people in Kashmir, who ventured into native granite but as this product is available in the market, we decided to go into mechanisation of natural stone. No one has ever done anything about traditional stone, as all the processing work on it was done manually, making it a time consuming and costly affair due to intensive requirement of labour,” says 28-year-old Shuja.

“Though marble extraction and cutting in Kashmir was being done even pre-90s but the sawing was done by flat blades. We introduced circular saws for cutting of marble and granite first time in Kashmir.”

Granite was good kick-start for the brothers but it was the traditional stone, which gave them complete edge in the Kashmir market.

“Despite the huge tradition of using stones in Kashmir since centuries, the cutting and shaping of these stones is still being done by hammer and chisel. We mechanised the process of traditional stone cutting and shaping. Sawing of the stones by machines not only saves material and resources but cuts down labour costs by two-thirds,” says Ubaid, who now functions as the director of R&D, and marketing.

For the smooth function of the plant and the process, brothers have gone for division of labour. Younger brother Shuja is director operations and looks at all types of operations at the plant as well as mining sites.

Ubaid, who as director R&D, looks for new resources and new machines, says he has designed one of the machines, which is very specific to sawing of the stones found here and that is patented in their name. They have also received patents for four products in their name, which is a huge achievement.

“As we stepped into traditional segment, we have got immense response. We provide a range of stone products for both residential as well as commercial markets. Though we have mechanised the production process but have retained the traditional artistry, which has become our strength,” says Shuja, who claims that L Crystals has revolutionised the production of traditional Dewur or Ashlur stone. “Unlike the random sizes available through manual production, which would create structural flaws in buildings, we provide the desired shape, size and thickness for multiple uses.”

L Crystal also provides fuel efficient Hamams, which have uniformity in thickness of a slab and better heat retention besides low installation costs. Fundai (Chiselled) stone and slates are other traditional stone products which L Crystal is providing in better quality and affordable prices.

“Stone brick is another product, which we are going to introduce soon, and that is going to become substitute for clay bricks,” says Ubaid.

Another feather in the cap was when L Crystals was chosen as industrial partner for instrument development program being undertaken by the Department of Science and Technology (GOI), IIT Madras, IISc Banglore jointly. The project aims to develop low cost stone machinery for developing sustainable and affordable housing material for hilly areas.