Despite having a considerable wool production, Kashmir is unable to utilise the resource due to lack of processing units resulting in loss of crores of rupees to the state economy as well as to farmers.
As per a senior official in sheep husbandry department, 34 lakh kilograms of wool are exported from Kashmir annually at "throw-away prices" to outside states. This they said is due to lack of local processing industry and a minimal regulatory role of state Wool Board.
Established in 1980 under sheep husbandry department, the Wool Board, set-up for playing market intervention role for wool sector, at present is going through an existential crisis and is unable to even manage its employees' monthly salaries.
"Our wool production is huge but industry is unable to get a boost as there are no local processing units in place," Mehraj-u-din Rather, director, Sheep Husbandry, Kashmir told Greater Kashmir. As per official data, 34 lakh kg of wool exported from Kashmir to Punjab and other states does not fetch breeders more than Rs 80 – Rs 100 per kg and in-return finished woollen products from the same wool are bought back to the Valley costing thousands of rupees per apparel.
As per officials, a handloom spinning plant at Bagh-e-Ali Mardan Khan for wool processing which was set-up under United Nations Development Programme has been lying defunct. In addition spinning plant of JK Industries Limited at Nowshehra in downtown Srinagar and its wool processing shoddy at Solina for low-grade wool is also not operational.
The Wool Board which was thriving in 1990s at present is going through manpower and resource crunch and is able to purchase only 1.5 lakh kgs of wool every year out of the 34 lakh kgs produced in the Valley. Managing Director, Wool Board, Harnam Singh Rana told Greater Kashmir that no allocations to the Board in the recent state Budget has come as a shock to it adding that "government plans to wind-up the board" and replace it with some other wing is a threat to its existence.
"In 1990s the board was profit making as it had the authority on import of wool to the state but soon privatisation took a hit on it. We are not even able to play the role of a rate fixation authority. Ideally we should have been setting a base price of wool purchase from breeder to exporters but there are many hurdles in doing so such as resource crunch," Rana said. He said monopoly of middle-men continues as the board apart from doing limited grading and auctioning of wool is unable to work like a regulator of this industry in Kashmir. "There are schemes such as that of Central Wool Board but on the policy level we need support from the state government," said Rana.
The Wool Board which had 100 employees till some time back saw 70 of them being transferred to other departments while salaries of 30 employees are managed from an interest-free loan from the government.
While as per officials, the Wool Board earns annual revenue of Rs 4- Rs 5 crore revenue and in addition gets some grant-in aid from the government but its day-to-day functioning is not doing any value addition to the local wool industry.
"The scope of wool production and processing is huge as J&K in total produces almost 80 lakh kgs of wool annually. We are selling wool for Rs 100 per kg and in return buying a sweater from Punjab for Rs 1000- Rs 2000. Our youth should be encouraged to foray into this sector and there has to be maximum privatization in the wool industry," said Bilal Kawoosa, chairman, PHD Chamber, state expert committee on Agriculture and Agribusiness.