PULWAMA (J&K): Located in the hotbed of terrorism in the Valley, Lassipora and Oukhoo villages in south Kashmir’s Pulwama have emerged as a hub of pencil slate manufacturing over the years, contributing to the economic growth of Jammu and Kashmir, and providing employment to thousands of locals.
Dozens of units, many operating inside residential buildings, are engaged in making slates from a special variety of poplar tree that grows only in the wetlands of Pulwama district.
Government officials said that about 63 per cent of pencil production in the region is done in-home units, many of them located in Lassipora, one of Kashmir’s biggest industrial estates set up over 300 hectares in 1984.
Owners of these units in the district said they expect a boom in their business thanks to reopening of schools in wake of the improved situation of the Covid-19 pandemic. “We are now racing against time to meet demands from big brands across the country,” a unit owner told The New Indian.
The pencil slate makers said that most of the industry workers, who left for their homes outside J&K after the outbreak of Covid-19 in 2020, have returned back to work. “Rest of them will also join us in some days,” an owner stated.
India had traditionally been importing wooden supplies from countries like China. But since 2010, local entrepreneurs decided to make use of Kashmir’s famous poplar trees, a peculiarly supple wood which makes it best suited for manufacturing of pencils. The poplar wood grows best in the valleys of Kashmir where the moisture content is ideal and the weather conditions allow the wood to remain soft during the tree’s growth.
Akhter Ahmad Lone, who runs a unit at Lassipora, said that the local manufacturers supply raw materials to big pencil brands like Apsara, Natraj, and Hindustan Pencils. He said that the pencil material suppliers in Lassipora provide employment to nearly 2,000 people. “Small units have come up in homes in Oukhoo,” he said.
Another unit owner, Abdul Rashid Zargar said that local businessmen have the potential to not just supplying raw material but also of manufacturing pencils in their units if they are provided with support from the government. “We need the support of government at the initial stage to compete with big brands,” he told The New Indian, adding that officials were in touch with the local units.
Lone said that authorities have started paying attention to their issues and the potential of the industry since Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned the industry during his monthly radio programme ‘Mann Ki Baat’. In the programme, PM Modi had spoken at length about the “Pencil Village of India”, saying that Pulwama is emerging as a hub for pencil manufacturing.
“Today, Pulwama is playing an important role in educating the entire nation. If the students across the nation do their homework, prepare notes, it is because of the hard work of the people of Pulwama,” PM Modi had said in the 70th episode of ‘Mann Ki Baat’.
Nissar Ahmad, president of an association of pencil slate unit owners, sought government’s support and intervention for ensuring a “level-playing field” for the local units.
“How do you expect the local industry to compete with big units,” he asked and lamented that locals supply the raw material but they have to rely on big brands for purchasing finished product — pencil. “Finally we have to rely on the local market,” he said.
The unit holders of Uhkoo village said that they faced huge losses due to a shift in education system towards online learning owing to the COVID-19 pandemic during the law two years.
The village supplies 90 per cent of the wood used for pencils in the country. “We faced a loss of demand by 70 per cent with almost 50 per cent of the employees losing their jobs due to the pandemic,” said Mukhtar Ahmad Sheik. “Now things are returning to normal as schools are open and pandemic seems over,” he said.
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