The pencil village of India, Oukhoo village in Pulwama district of Kashmir, has become a major source of pencil production in India. The village has 17 units and 4,000 employees. Even PM Modi mentioned the village in a recent episode of Mann Ki Baat, as it has helped to reduce the dependency of India on other nations for pencil wood in the past few years.
Manzoor Ahmad Allaie, owner of Jhelum Agro Industries says that India used to import wood and pencil slats from nations like China, Sri Lanka and Germany, but in recent years all these slats are made within our nation.
The wooden slats are bought by the biggest pencil manufacturers in India like Nataraj, Apsara and Hindustan pencils.
The wooden slats comes from the wood of poplar trees. The wood of this tree is peculiarly supple which makes it perfect for manufacturing pencils.
The poplar wood is found in abundance in the valleys of Kashmir where the moisture content is ideal, and the weather conditions are best suited for the wood to remain soft during the tree’s growth. Poplar trees could be found in valley streams, flood plains and even empty spaces along the roads.
Manzoor explains that during the 1960s, Deodar forest wood was banned by the government, wood of which was initially used as a raw material for pencils. In 1992-93, people found a replacement of the deodar tree in poplar tree. Pencil manufacturers in many parts of the nation started demanding and wooden logs were started to get supplied to them.
Until 1995, logs were cut and sent in bulk quantities to the manufacturers. Eventually, by 2010, the wooden logs were cut down to smaller bricks and blocks and then sent to the manufacturers.
Manzoor set up the unit in 2013 for converting these blocks into wooden slats. These wooden slats are made at band-saw mills into 5.2 mm thickness with dimensions of 78x77mm. The small pieces of wood are then dried in the sunlight or placed in a machine that absorbs their moisture.
Then these wooden slats are packed in batches of 800 per bag and sent for further processes. Preparing slats is about half of the process to manufacture pencils. These wooden slats are then sent to manufacturers in Jammu, Chandigarh and Gujarat for the remaining process to make the finished product.
Since 2013, 17 such other units have started to function in the Pulwama district. Manzoor says that the monthly turnover is Rs 3 crore. Both the locals and the government (through taxes) earn a lot from the industry. Manzoor believes that if the entire process of manufacturing of the pencil happens in a single place then the cost of the pencil will be very less and India might be able to export to the world.”The