Srinagar: Back in 2019, 40-year-old Sajad Ahmad (name changed) of Anantnag borrowed almost Rs 30 lakh from the bank to invest in a cricket bat manufacturing unit. He bought high-tech machinery and hired professionals to create a niche product.
Mere two months later, a lockdown followed after the abrogation of article 370. Days turned into months and months became years. By 2021, he was all broke.
“My preferences have changed from becoming a great businessman to manage loan installments,” he said.
Ahmad is eagerly waiting for the orders so that he could repay bank loans. “I had contacted many sports companies. They responded positively. But due to the lockdown, the business has been hit across the country,” he said.
Ahmad is not an isolated case. Majority of the unitholders are suffering due to COVID lockdown and suspension of the local cricket activities.
President Kashmir Cricket Bat Manufacturers Association Nazir Ahmad Salroo said the industry has incurred huge losses for the last three years.
“The situation has not improved particularly for cricket bat manufacturers. The demand has fallen. Unsold bats worth crores of rupees are lying in warehouses. We can’t calculate our losses. But it will be over Rs 1000 crore,” he said.
The manufacturers are worried about the wear and tear of the raw material and finished bats in their godowns. “The third lockdown was the last nail in the coffin. There are very grim chances of the revival of the industry till next year. The majority of the unitholders have become defaulters,” Salroo said.
The manufacturers have demanded tax relief from the government so that they could revive the dying business.
“Apart from the dearth of raw material, the 12 percent GST is equally denting this industry. The government has failed to create a brand name for Kashmir-made cricket bats,” said a cricket bat manufacturer.
According to Industry and Commerce Department figures, there are 400 cricket bat manufacturing units functional in the south Kashmir region. Of which 200 units are operational in Anantnag and 180 in Pulwama. As many as 32 lakh cricket bats are exported from Kashmir to other states annually.
With an annual turnover of more than Rs 100 crore, the cricket bat industry provides livelihood to thousands of people in Jammu and Kashmir. Low demand and the dearth of raw material are making things difficult for the bat manufacturers.
Despite the superior wood quality, the price of the Kashmiri willow bat ranges between Rs 250 to 1200. The English willow, which is mostly used by national and international players, however, is sold at Rs 35,000 to 50,000.
A senior officer told The Kashmir Monitor said that the government is now working to get a GI tag for Kashmir willow so that the locally made cricket bats could be marketed at the international level.
“There is a huge demand for Kashmir willow, but plastic is gradually overtaking it. So willow bats need immediate branding so that the industry is preserved,” he said.