What killed Punjab's sports industry? Here's why we import hockey sticks from Pak
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi tries to keep the spotlight on his ‘Make in India’ programme, Punjab’s story, once the top sports manufacturing hub in India, makes for a striking contrast.
In fact, things have gotten so bad that the players of the sports industry in Jalandhar now import the most major component of India’s national game – the hockey stick – from Pakistan in a big way.
This is simply yet another reason why Punjab’s economy is in trouble.
Sports industrialists in Jalandhar, which was once at the top of sports manufacturing in the country, are now looking for help from the government to revive the ailing industry, which has eroded over the past three decades.
In the city, every party has made election promises along this line and the Congress has even fielded former Olympian Pargat Singh from Jalandhar (Cantt) constituency.
The steady decline
It needs to be understood why the sports industry has declined to such a low point.
During the ‘80s and ‘90s, when militancy was on an upsurge, the industry began to partially shift from Jalandhar to Meerut.
But what has hit the industry hardest has been the failure of successive state governments to address their concerns.
“There is a Value Added Tax (VAT) of 6.50% on the sports goods manufactured here while the VAT in Meerut and Jammu and Kashmir is zero. The government has failed to give any reason for VAT imposition till now. We are just looking forward to the GST regime with the hope that it will provide us with a level playing field,” says Vijay Dhir, the convener of Khel Udyog Sangh.
He said that things would only improve when the government begins to treat sports as a part and parcel of the education system and makes sports goods tax free.
Dhir spoke of how the ban on export of willow from Jammu and Kashmir has hit units manufacturing cricket bats hard, forcing them to buy bats manufactured in Kathua or Jammu.
This means that only 20 of around 100 bat manufacturing units operate now.
According to industrialists, manufacturing of hockey sporting goods is one its last legs. The composite hockey stick, made in fibre and manufactured in Pakistan, has now become immensely popular among those playing competitive hockey.
“While our experts were busy doing research on improving the quality of our hockey sticks, the Pakistani variety not only entered but also captured the market. A lot many of us import these sticks and market them under Indian names like 'Sachin'. And even the import is not easy. We had imported two samples from Pakistan which were delivered to us almost after one year since our authorities were busy inspecting the papers,” said one of the sports manufacturers.
The fibre hockey stick, made in Pakistan, has become immensely popular with professionals players
Even football manufacturing has slipped out of Jalandhar. “Our labour is expensive while it is available at a lesser price in Meerut. The same is the case with Pakistan. Hence our exports have come down and the exports from Pakistan are shooting up,” said an industrialist.
He pointed out that earlier Jalandhar accounted for 70% of sports goods manufacturing while Meerut accounted for the remaining 30%. But now the trends have reversed with Meerut accounting for 60% while Jalandhar's share has fallen to 40%.
“The discrimination is not confined just to VAT. At no other places have the sports manufacturers been bogged down by filing thee 'C' form for refund of VAT or by the Central Sales Tax,” pointed Dhir.
A question of survival
With cheaper sports goods coming from China, survival has become all the more difficult. As a result, manufacturers of sports goods have gone from being traders and exporters to importers.
“What can a person do when the banks offer you loan at a rate of 13% for industrial purposes? It is the spirit of Punjabis that has led to this industry surviving till now. Otherwise all the odds are against them. The raw material comes from outside Punjab. The labour too comes from outside. And then the finished product too is sent outside. On top of this is the adverse policies of the government,” says Dhir.
Many believe that neither the Akalis nor the local BJP leaders have any sympathy for their cause
Even at this point of time with the industry at a low, it still employs around two lakh people. Jaladhar’s Sports Market in houses no less than 2,000 shops.
And if this was not enough, demonetisation hit the industry hard. This turn of events has led to a firm belief among a majority of sports industrialists in Jalandhar that neither the Akalis nor the local BJP leaders have any sympathy for their cause.
“We had decided to vote for anyone but the Akalis. We still fear that they might come back since the poll arithmetic is in their favour as opposition votes will split between Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress. Not that we are very sure that the other two parties will do something for us but we have some hope from them,” says an entrepreneur dealing in gym equipment.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu