With mushrooming power looms spinning fake products posing serious threat to the very existence of Pashmina shawls, authorities in Jammu and Kashmir are planning to introduce a legislation to preserve the world famous textile.
The State Handicrafts Department is working on a proposal to get Pashmina included in the items reserved exclusively for handloom, by amending the existing Handloom Act.
“Under the Handloom Act, the definition of handloom is traditional loom other than power loom. As per its provisions, some items can be reserved exclusively for handloom. I am submitting a proposal to the government to reserve Pashmina exclusively for handloom,” Director of Handicrafts Tariq Ahmad Ganaie said.
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He said, once the legislation is passed and Pashmina is included in the reserved category, using power looms for spinning the shawls will become illegal.
Ganaie said the power looms have increased production of Pashmina shawls manifold but the genuineness and superiority of the product have been compromised.
“The raw material of Pashmina, called ‘Taar’ in local parlance, is very soft and suited for traditional loom. Taar cannot sustain the force in a power loom and as a result nylon and other synthetic fibers are added to make it strong. This is what we call fake Pashmina,” he said.
He said at present his department cannot bar power looms from spinning Pashmina shawls as the “power loom users argue that they have got registration from the industries department for spinning wool and they say that Pashmina is also a wool”.
He said the genuine Pashmina should fulfill three main specifications: it should be obtained from under the fleece of mountain goat Capra Hircus, mostly found in Ladakh region; the fibres known as ‘Pashm’ should have a diameter of 12 to 16 microns; and it should be hand spun.
“There is an urgent need to reserve this item exclusively for handloom and preserve this craft for future,” Ganaie said, adding that once the law is in place, its implementation will be the responsibility of his department.
“We have a sophisticated laboratory to check genuineness of the products and label it as pure. Machine-made Pashmina is a fake Pashmina for all practical purposes. Once power looms are stopped then the role of this lab comes into play,” said the Director of Handloom.
“If the power looms continue spinning of fake items then what is the fun of having this laboratory… Even having the Geographical Indication (GI) mark will not help save its uniqueness and superiority,” he said.
Last August, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah opened the Testing and Quality Certification Centre at Craft Development Institute here to label genuine Pashmina shawls, after testing originality of the fabric, finesse of thread, spinning method and weaving technology.
Ganaie said low production cost encouraged people to use power looms. While Rs 20,000 is the cost incurred on spinning one kg of Taar by traditional methods, the cost comes down to only Rs 2,000 in power looms. He said even some artisans in Kashmir have started using synthetic ‘Taar’.
As an immediate measure, Ganaie said his department would soon launch an awareness programme to educate people about the genuineness of the product. “We want to make people aware about it because most of them don’t know what is being sold to them. At least the seller would have this fear that the buyer is aware,” he said.
He said if such measures are put in place and use of power handlooms for weaving Pashmina is stopped, it can become a Rs 2,000-crore industry. “During 2013-14, we have exported Pashmina products worth Rs 400 crore… If it is protected, the trade can touch Rs 2,000 crore annually,” he said.
The director said they had not labelled any Pashmina product at the Testing and Quality Certification Centre till now. “There is a procedural delay. We have not got user identities from the GI registry in Chennai for individual artisans. To get labelled, authorisation by the user identification is a must,” he said.
Hina Qazi, project coordinator at the laboratory, said uniqueness of Kashmiri Pashmina lies in the weaving process, and not in the material as such. “Pashmina does not only come from Kashmir but also from China and Scotland. However, those are machine woven unlike the Kashmiri product,” Hina said.