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In Kashmir under Indian administration, two difficult years of coronavirus for the “pencil village”

NEW DELHI: Pick up a pencil anywhere in India and chances are it was made from soft poplar wood native to Ukhoo, a village in Indian administered Kashmir in Pulwama district.

The region, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on a radio show last year, supplies over 90% of the wood used by Indian pencil makers, earning it the nickname ‘the pencil village. “.

But as school closures in the event of a pandemic have taken a heavy toll on education and related industries, Ukhoo has also seen a sharp decline in demand for its main product, pencils, which has led homeowners factories to downsize.

Of the 18 slat factories in the Kashmir Valley, 17 are in Pulwama District and seven are in Ukhoo on the banks of the Jhelum River.


Workers make pencils at a Jhelum Agro Industry factory in Ukhoo village, Pulwama district, Indian-administered Kashmir, December 18, 2021. (Photo: Manzoor Ahmad Allaie)

“Previously we had a turnover of over $ 130,000 per month, now it is only $ 27,000 to $ 40,000,” said Manzoor Ahmad Allaie, owner of the pencil factory at Lattes, which owns Jhelum Agro Industries, adding that its unit’s output had been reduced to 30 percent of pre-coronavirus levels and revenues had declined significantly.

The 45-year-old businessman said he set up his factory in 2013 when he first learned that a pencil factory was sourcing wood from the valley.

“I visited pencil making units in Jammu and found out that they made slats from logs before making pencils,” he said. “Then I suggested to the manufacturers that this block of wood could be made in the valley itself and it would save time and money, and in 2013 we put the first unit in place. “

Allaie started with 15 employees, a number that increased tenfold during the year, he said, saying his company and other local producers supplied pencil factories in Jammu, Chandigarh and Gujarat, and the one of the country’s largest pencil makers, Nataraj.


Workers make pencils at a Jhelum Agro Industry factory in Ukhoo village, Pulwama district, Indian-administered Kashmir, December 18, 2021. (Photo: Manzoor Ahmad Allaie)

Today, the pandemic has plunged the industry into a “deep crisis,” said Feroz Ahmad, owner of Barkat Agro Industries, who joined the company in 2014.

“This industry employs not only locals but also people from outside,” he said, “but the government is not doing enough to protect us.” he said.

Allaie agreed that Ukhoo needed “the government’s attention.”

A local government official said the government was exploring ways to boost the industry through incentives, but manufacturers had to “meet certain requirements” first.

“The pencil industry in Ukhoo village is in an unorganized sector, which means factories are operating on private land,” Mahmood Ahmad Shah, director of industries and commerce of the administration of Jammu and Kashmir. “We are exploring the possibilities of finding land in Ukhoo Village and declaring it an industrial zone and relocating industries there.”

A recent Home Office report said Ukhoo would be developed as a “special zone” for manufacturing.

“Now the whole country would receive finished pencils,” the report said, “made entirely in Pulwama.”


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