SRINAGAR: Kashmir’s famed bat-manufacturing industry, a means of employment to more than 50,000 people, has many foes — separatism, unpredictable electricity and internet services, not to mention an unfavourable tax regime. But the final death knell for the more-than-a-century-old industry might come from disappearing willow trees in the valley.
Almost 90 per cent of cricket bats in India are made from Kashmir willow, according to manufacturers in the valley. The Halmulla-Sangam stretch along the Jammu-Srinagar highway alone has over a hundred factories that carve bats out of logs of Kashmir willow, overcoming a number of obstacles.
Many of them have to do with the troubled situation in the valley. “Here, whenever there is tension, internet services are cut for days at a stretch,” says Mehraj, who has been in the bat-manufacturing business for more than a decade. “We receive a lot of our orders via Whatsapp, so that complicates things.”
Then there is the electricity, that often gets disrupted multiple times a day, delaying orders and disrupting production schedules. Wreaking further havoc upon the industry is the shutdowns that the valley is subject to whenever a clash between militants and the Army occurs. South Kashmir, which houses most of the factories, is one of the more turbulent regions. The introduction of the GST regime, which raised the taxes on bats from 5 per cent to 12 per cent, has also lowered demand and affected profits.
But the gravest threat to the long-term future of the industry is the dwindling number of willow trees in the valley. “Farmers now prefer to grow poplar or apples,” says Amin Dar, who runs Sangam Sports Works. “Willow takes almost 15 years to mature. Why would they wait that long?”