Once known as the largest silk outlet in the world, the historic Silk Factory at Rajbagh here is dying a silent death due to the Jammu and Kashmir government's apathy.
The Factory—already in financial crisis—has been further hit by the devastating floods of September 2014 during which it suffered an estimated loss of around Rs 5 crore as its looms, raw material and finished silk products stored in the showroom were damaged by the deluge, officials said. However, despite the huge losses incurred by the Factory, the J&K government has not come forward to its rescue.
The Factory, which started functioning from 1939 during the rule of Maharaja Hari Singh, has over the years dwindled due to official apathy and 'non-serious' attitude of the successive state governments towards it, insiders told Greater Kashmir. The factory originally started from Ram Bagh here in 1896 before it was shifted to its existing location (at Rajbagh).
As per officials, the Factory once used to produce silk products to the tune of 5 to 6 lakh meters per-annum but now its production capacity has come down to meager 30 to 40 thousand meters per-annum. "The main reason for the gloomy situation is that out of 200 looms installed in the Factory, only 26 are operating," they said. "The government has failed to install new machinery as a result of which the production has dwindled to the extent that the unit is not able to earn profits."
The sorry state of affairs can be gauged by the fact that in the past, officials at the Silk Factory have been selling the prime land inherited by the enterprise to pay salary to its employees and meet 'other expenses'.
"Over the years, around 80 kanal land has been sold and now only 24 kanal is with the Factory. The land was purchased by various government agencies," said an official of the Silk Factory. Officials said out of 104 kanals of land, only 24 are under the possession of Rajbagh Silk Factory. The entire land was transferred to Jammu and Kashmir Industries in 1963 as the Silk Factory is under its administrative control.
Interestingly, Europeans had installed machines and looms as they were aware about the quality of silk produced in Kashmir, officials said. "This encouraged Maharaja Hari Singh to start the venture because that time the Europeans didn't have a good relationship with China and the Chinese silk was also of inferior quality as compared to silk produced in Kashmir," said an employee of the Factory.
After that, the Silk factory was established, he said. "It became a hub of economic activity. During its initial stages the factory was doing well, producing around 20,000 meter silk a month. The looms (second hand) installed some 74 years back—around 130—were purchased from Europe in 1939."
Pertinently, the demand for silk generated during the World War-II resulted in profits for the Sericulture Department of the State. The Rajbagh Silk Weaving Factory was in full bloom. By 1942, Kashmir had become the largest Silk Factory in the World which produced finest silk that was sold throughout the British Empire. The quality of silk improved was comparable to the 'Classical' of Italy and "Petit Exta" of France. The Silk Factory once used to provide employment to more than 2000 employees, but now only 204 employees are working there. Of them, 170 are skilled while rest work as ministerial and consolidated staff.
Manager of the Silk Factory, Muhammad Afzal said the unit had started recovering from the "worst situation it faced during the turmoil." "But September-2014 floods hit us badly. Our looms were damaged, stock destroyed and it was after the efforts of the employees that some of them were restored."
Talking to Greater Kashmir, Managing Director Jammu and Kashmir Industries, Javaid Iqbal said the floods caused huge losses to the Silk factory at Rajbagh but the government is trying hard to revive it. "The state government will provide funds for the revival of the factory from the Rehabilitation Package announced by the central government," Iqbal said. "Besides, the JKI is also working on seeking funds under ASIDE scheme of the central government for the same."
"We had submitted DPR for availing funds under this scheme but unfortunately the Centre during the Union Budget scrapped the scheme. However the former Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed took up the matter with the Centre after which it suggested us to seek revival of this factory under the Technology Upgradation fund. But TUF requires some marginal money from the state and to finalize things we are now re-drafting the project report." He said that the J&K government is providing financial assistance to the Silk factory which is pegged at Rs 5.5 crore. "The monthly salary of the unit is estimated at Rs 1.2 crore," he said, adding that funds are also being provided to the factory under Plan.