Official apathy pushes historic silk factory at ram bagh into ruins

‘Govt Has No Plans To Revive It’

Once one of the largest producers of silk in the world, the famous Silk Factory at Ram Bagh here is in ruins due to failure of successive regimes to ensure its functioning.

In absence of any maintenance, the mega British architecture buildings housing cocoon reeling and silk processing units are dilapidated. Some of the historic buildings of the factory have been converted into offices of various departments.

The transformer repairing workshop set up near historic building points out towards non-seriousness of the authorities to preserve the factory as heritage structure. The factory premises is free for all and there is no security measure to even protect the deserted buildings that house old machinery or cocoon reeling and processing units.

Columnist and historian ZG Muhammad said Silk factory at Rambagh was established in 1870. “Starting with two filatures, then modern machinery was imported from Italy. Eight more filatures were added after that it was put under the charge of Thomas Wardle, an eminent English sericulturist at Rambagh,” he said.

Silk has been one of ancient industries of Kashmir. “It might have existed much before visit of Chinese pilgrim Heiun Tsiang about 1400 years back. The industry suffered a set back and during the times of the Sultans of Kashmir which is the golden period of our history, it was revived and Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin paid a special attention to it.  The industry was found in flourishing stage by Mirza Hyder in 1540 A.D. During the Afghan and Sikh period it got a setback. It was put on modern lines by Maharaja Ranbir Singh in 1870,” ZG said.

He said the industry by 1909 offered employment to 60000 people and silk worth 10,000 pounds was produced. “The profits of industry went up from 3.06 lakhs in 1902 to 12.5 lakhs in 1919. Hydro-electric power was used in reeling silk in 1908.  Subsequently, the Raj Bagh Silk Factory was set up in 1937. It is history that by 1942 Kashmir was having largest Silk Factory in the world. It produced the finest silk in India and its silk was selling throughout British Empire.”

ZG lamented the present condition of the Silk Factory at Rambagh. “The deathly silence prevails on this factory that once hummed with activity. Why! The location is same. Men and material is same- why did this sick which had the potential of growing into a giant production centre died with a whimper. Two things have contributed to it one wrong planning and prioritization of the state government and second politicizations. It is high time for the state not to go against tide but catch the high tide of privatization and sail across safely,” he said.

A noted Architect and Urban Designer, Asma Jeelani, who recently made spot assessment of thefactory decried vandalisation of the factory by various government departments. “Most importantly, Public Service Commission has unsympathetically constructed monstrous and hideous buildings and compound walls that bifurcate one of the buildings, hence playing havoc with the originality of these monumental structures and destroying and tampering with its overall milieu,” Asma said in her comprehensive report.

Asma who is also an urban planner said the centrally located in the property the building is surrounded by many other buildings of its kind. She says the architectural design speaks of its grandeur by way of buttress walls, double height windows, sloping roof profiles together defining the architectural language of the building and telling upon their heritage.

“Rectangular in shape, the buildings past grandeur is strongly defined by its shear mass which is now be-littled by the fairly new roof canopy built by the PDD to serve its workshop requirements; telling upon the heritage. The steel roof and its angle iron beams are anchored to the brick walls callously breaking the intricate and ornamental brick patterns  Furthermore, a power grid jungle suffocates the architectural monument on its north as if there were no place in entire Kashmir to construct a utility power grid. The steel roof and its angle iron beams are anchored to the brick walls callously. Presently the building serves as a heavy duty workshop with greasy electrical equipment spilling oil on the floor of the architectural marvel, ruining the very foundation of it,” she states.

Asma states that apart from the main building the entire Silk Factory site houses a dozen more buildings flawlessly placed in between large open spaces separated by variety of mulberry trees planted to give an effect of long avenues within the gardens.

“The architectural design has successfully stood the test of time for more than a century withstanding earthquakes, extreme weather conditions and recently devastating floods standing erect and firm on ground and yet calling for attention of public to preserve the heritage and learn from its architectural glory and structural stability of the Silk Factory buildings for future developments. The effective choice of building materials, architectural design, and structural detailing call for researching and rethinking the design direction that the city should take for its future developments,” she said.

Asma states that at this time public intervention is imperative to save and safeguard the past glory of the Silk Factory and bring it back into our present and future as public spaces to be utilized for the public benefit. “Instead of abandoning and encroaching upon such beautiful heritage buildings the public must make an effort to be custodians of landmark historical buildings and preserve them for generations to come,” she states.

Managing Director Jammu and Kashmir Industries Javid Iqbal said the factory was closed in 1980s. “Following losses, the government decided to close the factory at Ram Bagh. In 2007, its employees went for voluntary retirement under the Golden Handshake scheme. Government has handed over part of factory land to several department after compensation to out department. Presently, Government has no plans to revive the factory,” Iqbal said.

“Industrial sheds don’t qualify as heritage structure. Floods rendered them unsafe for use. We are focusing on Rajbagh Silk factory which is earning profits.” Iqbal added.

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