For several workers sitting at the dilapidated Bemina Woollen Mills, here, the devastation and the downfall of the mill, and a dream project of its revival, centre stage their discussion.
"This is a mill that not only matters to us, but also to the whole of Kashmir," says Imtiyaz Ahmad Wani, a worker, who has been serving at the mill for last over three decades.
"Woollen crafts in Kashmir, though alive, are pacing slowly. We want it thriving." According to Wani, there are currently over ten looms functional at the mill, which could accommodate ten more. He says that new looms should have been added on priority.
"We are currently processing wool, tweed, shawls, and the production could improve if we get sophisticated machinery," he says.
Notably, the Government Bemina Woollen Mills Srinagar was conceived as a project in 1965. Later, under J&K Industries, it was established during 1970-74 as a composite woollen mill comprising spinning, weaving and finishing machineries with a capacity of 1.58 lakh meter per year on a single shift of eight hours per day.
The sophisticated machineries installed at the mill way back in 1970s included the UK-made worsted spinning plant, Japan-made woollen spinning plants, 13 Harersley power looms imported from the UK. The mill had also sophisticated machines for dyeing and finishing, and hi-tech weaving plants which had been imported from Switzerland in 1988-89 for supplementing the weaving capacity. However, during the 2014 floods, most of the machines got damaged, and the mill was left with debris.
According to experts, more than 50,000 persons are connected with the sheep rearing activity and they mainly belong to the weaker section of society comprising Gujjars, small and marginalised farmers, people from backward areas, etc. in J&K.
Like Wani, few other workers say that additional technical manpower like weaving masters for Sulzer, finishing masters, and spinning masters may be hired on a priority basis.
Khurshid Ahmad, an official at Bemina Woollen Mills, said: "2014 floods washed away everything at the Mill and most of the expensive machines and looms got washed away".
He said that while a washing unit was installed and old machines repaired, most of the capital infusion was devoured by the civil works.
He said that the improvement in the machinery could help them increase the production.
Meanwhile, there is some hope: The officials said that establishment of Composite Market Centre at Bemina coming up under World-Bank funded JTFRP project will create a dependable and composite platform for ensuring the end-to-end use of the locally available wool and bring more and more people belonging to the weaker sections of society within the circuit of the entire chain of value addition.
They said that the estimated beneficiaries of the project would be around 50,000 persons both directly and indirectly, apart from more than 1000 persons (directly and indirectly) who shall be involved in the value addition chain.
The establishment of the centre would have composite facilities of conduct of auction of wool for consumption, scouring, carding, spinning/twisting, weaving and finishing.
Nodal Officer, Industries and Commerce, J&K, Sajid Nazir, said that under the component, various latest types of equipment have been procured, including 8 looms in order to strengthen the infrastructure at Government Woollen Mills Bemina. "Besides this, the component aims to carry out the procurement of rapier looms, boilers, dyeing, and related types of equipment etc. for which contract has been awarded."
The overall project cost is Rs 7 crore, and nearly Rs 4.5 crores are meant for civil works under which news showrooms cum interpretation centre came up, he said.
He said that in order to contain losses, the J & K government from time to time invested money into the rundown Bemina Woollen Mills to improve its products.
Notably, Jammu and Kashmir is one of the top ten states/UTs, which has the top quality wool production. "With the commissioning of several of these projects, the government-run Bemina Woollen Mill would be targeting the local wool production, which would not only benefit the department, but also around 3000 families would be directly or indirectly benefited."
Abid Rasheed, a tech-geek and IT professional, says that the department should provide conducive environment for artisans and workmen. He says that with workshops, displays, and initiates, novice and seasoned textile artists alike can enjoy the spectacular workmanship of textile artists and learn from the best all over the globe.
According to government officials, Jammu and Kashmir holds the key position, sharing its borders with Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. The UT is rich in flora and fauna, which is best attributed to the agro-climatic condition prevalent throughout the place. Long and cold winters in Kashmir make woollens an essential commodity here. "Being one of the significant producers of wool Jammu and Kashmir has failed to use its produce for want of infrastructure. J&K sells 70 per cent of its wool in raw form for lack of processing units. It produces about 60 lakh kilogram of wool, mostly from the crossbred animals and suitable for making apparel," the officials told Greater Kashmir.
"Out of available wool, only 30 per cent is used by J&K in public and private sectors. The rest finds its way in raw form to neighbouring states such as Punjab and Himachal Pradesh for value addition due to inadequate processing facility in J&K."
They say that a large quantity of raw wool is also sold to Rajasthan for manufacturing and industrial application. Selling raw wool to the outside market results in poor price realisation. It also contains a large amount of dust, dirt and vegetable matters adding transportation and handling costs.
The woollen industry in J & K was established in early 1960. Having worsted mill, composite mill and 'shoddy plant' under its banner, these mills were fulfilling the requirement of J&K in terms of woollen yarn and products. After 1990 with open marketing, shoddy was imported at a large scale and converted into shoddy products. It adversely affected woollen activities in J&K.
The observers found conflict in the region as another major stumbling block in the growth of the woollen sector as "industrial activity slowed down". This resulted in most of the units turning sick for want of raw material. It was found that the woollen industry was run by permanent employees who adversely worked into poor productivity and made the units unviable.
Now, with the ongoing World Bank funded projects, the woollen sector in Jammu and Kashmir is getting a major overhauling—a move hailed by the local workers and the employees of the heritage Bemina Woollen Mills here.
Chief Executive Officer Jammu and Kashmir Economic Reconstruction Agency and Jammu Tawi Flood Recovery Project, Dr Syed Abid Rasheed Shah, says that JKERA, under its several project heads, was aiming to bring visible changes to people's lives in Jammu and Kashmir.
He said with some of the initiatives by the Agency offers a concrete way forward to support a rapid & robust recovery. "We are committed to ensuring that reconstruction is transparent, sustainable, & inclusive," the CEO says.
The CEO said that the work under on the component of Strengthening & Restoration of Livelihood and the component of the Strengthening of the Critical Infrastructure of the World Bank-funded JTFRP was going on smoothly, saying that with the completion of such projects, the concerned sectors would get hugely benefited.
"We hope our interventions bring some remarkable changes to the people in the region," the CEO says.
He said for the heritage Bemina Woollen Mills, the project is being executed by the Department of Industries and Commerce as the project implementation unit and J&K Projects Construction Corporation under force account mechanism.
The construction of building for whole chain activity of wool processing along with the restoration and repair works for Government Woollen Mill at Bemina is nearing completion and would be soon inaugurated, and progress of 76 per cent and 96 per cent has been achieved on the construction of buildings at Rajbagh and Bemina respectively.
Pertinently, the government-run BeminaWoollen Mill is marketing certain finished products and is trying to compete with larger manufactures like Raymonds and Vimal besides the J&K Handicrafts Development Corporation that is the prominent Tweed products leader. The officials said that thrust would keep on producing high-quality woollenand worsted tweed suiting, serge, Angola, Terricot, blankets.