J&K Ban On Willow Movement Boosts Smuggling

14 November 2009
The Economic Times


Jammu: With Jammu & Kashmir government refusing to revoke the ban on supply of Kashmir willow clefts, a raw material used in making of cricket bats, to other states, the bat manufacturing units across the country continue to be in a state of flux. The manufacturers, primarily from Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, are finding it increasingly hard to meet export commitments and the ever growing demand for Kashmir willow bats domestically. The unmoving has left them with no other option but to keep up with smuggle of raw material from J&K which has been erratic and making their margins volatile.. “Today Indian exporters can get all required raw material from anywhere in the world and that too at consessional rates of import duty. It is, however, an irony that they cannot get the raw material from few states within the country,” says an agitated Tarun Dewan, secretary of Sports Goods Export Promotion Council (SGEPC), a body set up under the ministry of commerce and industry. Kashmir willow bats comprise 60% of the total bats manufactured out of Meerut & Jalandhar despite the ban on it, according to industry sources. A whopping 15 lakh Kashmir willow clefts come to Meerut and Jalandhar every year illegally. For the last four years, the industry has been hoping to find a legal route to procure the raw material from J&K, which could reduce the cost of producing a Kashmir willow bat by one fourth and improve their margins, but success has been hard to come. Says a Meerut-based cricket goods manufacturer, who did not wish to be identified; “They are trying to develop their own industry at the cost of the other. This is not a way to fix the problems.” The sports goods industry in Meerut and Jalandhar believes that the J&K government, by putting a ban on Kashmir willow clefts export to other states, is not helping the general cause of the industry. “The practice is breeding corruption and causing a revenue loss to the state exchequer. Corrupt state government officials are filling their own pockets and allowing movement freely,“ a Jalandhar-based cricket goods manufacturer said. The modus operandi works like this. To procure clefts from J&K, these manufacturers pay a bribe of Rs 1-2 lakh per truck to state officers. A truck usually carries 4,000-4,500 pieces of willow and costs Rs 10 lakh. In 1999, the then J&K government had put a partial ban on the movement of Kashmir willow to other states and was only releasing 2 lakh clefts in a year under a fixed quota system. A notification (SRO 187) was also issued during 2002 which allowed movement of clefts. This arrangement worked smooth for three years and exporters paid a cess of Rs 10 per willow clefts to the state government. However this arrangement was abruptly stopped in 2005 and a complete ban was imposed. Since then smuggling of clefts has been rampant. Last month, J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah presided a meeting where this subject was discussed once again. Says Shakeel Qalander, who heads the Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir (FCIK); “Around 77 manufacturing units have closed down for want of raw material in the state. In the coming days, we will require more clefts locally,” he said. Mr Qalander admitted that there are some Jammu-based units which have discovered a new route used for smuggling clefts. “We have brought that to the notice of the government and hopefully these routes would be plugged soon,” Mr Qalander said. When SundayET contacted the J&K government principal secretary forest, Shant Manu, he said they have activated the Forest Protection Force which has been raiding the places. Seeing the gravity of the problem, Mr Abdullah has, in fact, ordered for scanners to be installed at all exit routes from the state to ensure no clefts go out. According to Mr Dewan,however, the state government has been illegal to stop the movement of willow clefts when SRO 187 is still valid. “It’s a verbal ban. There is no notification to that effect,” he said. Says a Meerut-based cricket bat manufacturer; “When Kashmir apples can move to other states, why not Kashmir willow clefts? It’s a political gimmick to put a stop on the movement of willow. Everybody involved has a vested interest in the illegal trade of the clefts.”