Ansar Hussain Dar
Budgam, Jan 18: Jhelum Structures Private Limited – Kashmir’s “only mechanised” brick kiln situated at Ompora in this central Kashmir’s Budgam district – has confronted nightmares with years of shutdown worsened by the unavailability of workers.
Since its inception in 1982, the factory has witnessed unprecedented shutdowns. The unfavorable (political) circumstances in Kashmir, the harsh winter climate and other reasons affected its growth and expansion. It slipped into crisis in the 1990s when the arms uprising in the valley was at its peak.
Though the kiln resumed functioning after a long period of hibernation, the inadequate proficiency of Kashmiri labourers couldn’t save it from recurring losses.
“The factory’s project plan in 1982 had stipulated to produce over 12 million bricks per year. But over the years, it managed to produce only 10% of the projected plan annually,” Imtiyaz Ahmad, a worker at the kiln said.
He said that while drafting the project plan, the policymakers failed to take the harsh winter climate of Kashmir into consideration. “The factory remains inactive from the month of November to April. We were deceived by the project plan. I want to quit this job. I have also reached an age where I cannot even do labour work,” he said.
Imtiyaz added, “Initially, I was proud of working in a factory, but time has proven me wrong. Kashmir bears no future for industries.”
The factory was built over a decade on 22 kanals of land with Romanian-inducted machines. Its bricks are famous across Kashmir for their distinct trait of glitter. To acquire and maintain its finishing by the process of mechanisation, Jhelum Structures availed a separate 33000 KV essential electric service. While the factory remains functional from May to October, the electricity dues are paid for the entire year.
Besides the government’s apathy, the factory is irked by the frequent grievances of the local dwellers. Situated in a residential area of Ompora, the kiln locally purchases clay from the hilly regions of Budgam. The commotion of lorries often invites grievances from the nearby inhabitants.
Jhelum Structures Private Limited is a semi-government industry with Hamidullah as Managing Director. The factory is in crisis even after being directly associated with the territorial government. “Due to the COVID-19 imposed lockdown in March 2020, the factory suffered losses for two consecutive years but no compensation was offered. Instead, we paid insurance, taxes and electricity dues at a hiked price,” the factory’s shareholders said.
The factory has a single tipper lorry to carry bricks to its customers. A tipper lorry carries 3000 bricks at a time which costs between 50,000 and 55,000 rupees to nearby places. Jhelum Structures has also delivered bricks outside Kashmir. “It’s hard for us to survive even after being a maiden mechanised brick kiln in Kashmir. I wonder how other industries are still functioning,” said a worker.
The Pampore branch of JKPCC (Jammu & Kashmir Projects Construction Corporation) mechanised brick kiln was shut down due to bankruptcy. “Now, Jhelum Structures Private Limited is staring at its closure,” the worker said.