With roots tracing back to neighbouring Pakistan, the world famous Sports Goods Industry of Jalandhar is a name to be reckoned with on the national and international platforms. Post Indo-Pak partition 1947, majority of the sports industrialists shifted base to Jalandhar.
It is for this reason that the leading players from different disciplines of sports swear by the sheer quality, precision and durability of the products that are manufactured by around 400 sports units in Jalandhar.
From the renowned 1950s name of Beat All Sports (BAS) known for its handcrafted bats with the brand name ‘BAS Vampire’, Jalandhar city’s name is synonymous to the milestones in the cricket world.As Indian cricket team’s captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni shared during his recent visit to Jalandhar, “Anybody who has been associated with cricket would be aware of two sports cities- Jalandhar and Meerut (Uttar Pradesh). I have been playing with the BAS-Vampire bat, which is manufactured in Jalandhar.”
Director of BAS R C Kohli said, “We manufacture cricket bats under the supervision and according to choice of national and international cricketers. It is a matter of pride that top batsmen from Indian cricket team and those from foreign countries prefer to play with BAS Vampire bats. Ace cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Mathew Hayden, Hashim Amla to rising names like Mandeep Singh have been associated with us.”
BAS has been exporting bats to Australia, New Zealand, England, South Africa, Dubai, Sri Lanka to name a few. “In the domestic market, Ranji players have been playing with our bats. It is an individual cricketer’s choice to get associated with us,” he added.About the quality and the manufacturing of the bats, Kohli said that the international cricket bats and those which were exported were made from the English Willow. “We import English Willow wood from England (United Kingdom) while the bats manufactured for the domestic market were made from the Kashmiri Willow (Jammu and Kashmir). Currently, there was a shortage of willow wood from both UK and the J&K. Especially, in the J&K, due to the unrest, business got affected,” he shared.
However amidst this, Kohli also mentioned that the sports industry has been demanding a Skill Development Centre at Jalandhar to impart training in cutting-edge technology of the sport market. “We had been raising this demand, but the state government has failed to fulfil it,” he said.Similarly, when it comes to football, one name that resonates with excellence is Nivia Sports Jalandhar. Making its presence in the international arena, Nivia has been sponsoring I-League teams while footballs, kits and shoes under this brand emerge as a top choice of players.
Managing Director of Nivia Sports Rajesh Kharbanda said that the industry has been witnessing technological advancements, hence the manufacturing has witnessed a shift too. “Earlier, hand-stitched footballs were considered the best. Now, stitchless, wielded, moulded and machine-stitched balls are the most sought after choice. In fact, within the next five years, hand-stitched footballs would be phased out,” he said.
Kharbanda also shared that though the sports industry was growing but only those units were prospering, which have invested in technology. “The trend of the industry has shifted from the cottage to medium and small enterprises. At the same time, E-Commerce also emerged as a good platform too, where we get to compete with big brands and get level playing field,” he said.
Talking about the trend in sports, Kharbanda mentioned that during the past two to three years, the trend of team sports like football, hockey and volleyball has declined in India. “Suddenly, people’s interest has grown towards individual sports like swimming, badminton, wrestling, cycling, shooting and other such games,” he added.
On the current problems faced by sports goods industry, Kharbanda said that the major demand of uninterrupted power supply was over now in Punjab. Similarly, labour unrest has never been a problem in the state. Even labourers were easily available from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, he said.Notably, this year, Nivia Sports added another feather in its kitty, when Rajesh Kharbanda got ‘Flipkart Award’ for being the ‘No 1 Sports Brand in E-Commerce.’ Last year, a rubber hand-stitched football ‘Nivia Anterix’ was approved by FIFA Pro, which was another milestone.
Further, in the world of hockey, which bears a special connection with Jalandhar, the mention of R K Sports is a must.Managing Director of R K Sports Sanjay Kohli, whose popular hockey brand ‘Rakshak’ was carried by Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) to Rio Olympics 2016 said that though individually the sports industrialists were performing but when it comes to the industry as a whole, the picture was not that good.“VAT refund has been the biggest headache for the industrialists. Now, GST will be introduced but the rate structure was not clear. Even lack of infrastructure was a big trouble, as till date, roads have not been constructed in this part of the Leather Complex in Variana. Whenever, it rains, the approach roads are reduced to slush and that affects business badly,” Kohli said.
Talking about hockey, Kohli said that the recent performance of India at Rio Olympics had boosted the morale of the nation and the market, even though we lost before the medal stage. “We are manufacturing wooden and composite hockey sticks. Composite hockey is made from high technology, fibre glass, carbon and Kavilar-Aramid while the wooden hockey is made from mulberry wood. We have been supplying hockey sticks to Punjab Sports Department too,” he said.
On the technology front, Kohli was the first industrialist to introduce ‘condoms’ for giving grip to hockey stick, a trick which has been working wonders for him. A novel idea, it has been yielding desired results on the turf as well!Kohli also said that there was a time, when Pakistan and China were dominating the sports market, but now Indian sports goods were sought after again for their quality. “We have been exporting hockey sticks to Australia and South Africa while domestic market is also flourishing with sponsors sponsoring hockey events,” he said.
Further talking about the need for a ‘Common Cluster for Raw material’, Kohli said, “Lack of natural resources is one reason and then Punjab being a border state has to bear the brunt of getting raw materials at a high rate. The government should provide freight subsidy for the sports goods industry, so that it gets a boost. Here in Punjab, we are importing not only raw material but labourers from other states and even equipment too.”
However, still the industry was going on but the much-needed boost from the state government would uplift the morale of the sports goods scenario at the national and international level, he said.
‘Need research and development centre for sports industry’
Ravinder Dhir, a leading sports trader and the president of Khel Udhog Sangh who has been raising the industry demands at different platforms said that the first and foremost demand was to set up a new Focal Point exclusively for Sports Goods Industry.“We not only require a Focal Point but also a Skill Development Centre where labour should be trained with latest technique exclusively for Sports Goods Industry, so that the problem of shortage of skilled labour could be addressed,” Dhir said.It has been our demand to bring sports industry of Punjab at par with that of UP, where VAT is zero per cent. Make traders-friendly policy on VAT refund. State government should fix one rate of VAT on raw material required for the sports industry of Punjab which should be 6.05 per cent instead of present two rates of 6.05 per cent and 14.30 per cent,” he said.
Dhir also batted for a Research and Development Centre for the Sports Industry and providing electricity at affordable rates. He also demanded to set up district level grievances committee in place of trade and industrial board, which was merely eyewash. “The chairman of these committees should be a local representative from the industry, so that some concrete results could be achieved,” he added.
The government should also hold discussion with Jammu and Kashmir government for easy availability of Kashmir Willow clefts to the sports industry while policy should be made to import technology from abroad, he added. The Khel Udyog Sangh has also been demanding the removal of Sales Tax barrier, which was the biggest hindrance in the growth of industry.
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