6
June

Chiseling Stones

Story by Tasavur Mushtaq in June, Srinagar

It was near madness when Ubaid Mehraj decided to chase his dreams of turning raw stones into tiles instead of reaping benefits of his engineering degree. Tasavur Mushtaq talks to the young entrepreneur who despite odds managed to translate his dreams into reality

In fact never in the race

Jubilations were all around in the modest house of Ubaid Mehraj who cracked All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE) in 2005 which enabled him to get admission in National Institute of Technology (NIT) Hazratbal. Ubaid’s banker father and housewife mother were satisfied with the performance of their son as they had thought that he will get a decent job. But as the fate had in store, after few semesters, Ubaid’s idea of life put serious question mark on the dream of his parents of him getting a good job as he planned to be entrepreneur and try innovative ideas. There was resentment to his approach as everybody thought he is going to land in trouble. The first offer he rejected was Rs 4.5 Lakh per annum package from a reputed company outside J&K.

The family had a reason as Ubaid’s academic career was not that ‘glorious’. “I was never good at academics. In fact never in the race,” says Ubaid with a smile. Not only this while being in NIT, Ubaid was rusticated for a year, but later Court order gave him relief and he joined back. “For being upright I was punished.”

Prior to joining engineering field, Ubaid’s childhood dream was to join Army. He says uniform and discipline always fascinated him. But what went wrong in pursuing the dream, Ubaid says was issue of ‘nationality’.

Now 28, Ubaid did his B.tech in Metallurgical and Material Engineering in 2010. Though he could not join army, but he had inculcated self discipline in him and playing with stones always fascinated him. In his last semesters at NIT, Ubaid visited many production units in India to have firsthand experience of how stones are chiseled and given shape. He also worked in production plant to know the tricks of the trade.

Done with his degree, as he came back to valley, he was all set to make his dream of chiseling stone in to a reality. The idea to approach Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) struck his mind and he went to their Pampore Office. His visit was a success. He got 7.5 lakh subsidy from EDI and 25 lakh finance from Jammu and Kashmir Bank which he believes was enough to get started. He finally started his unit in Industrial Area Khonmoh where initially he had machinery for Marble, Granite, and what in local parlance is called Dever (Ashlow).

Ubaid named his unit: L- Crystals, which became Valley’s mass scale unit where mechanized processing of stone took place to make it in to fine tiles.He says that his unit is one among largest unit in valley which has machines like block cutters, Ganti cranes, numetic polishers, edge cutting machines and mobile loaders.

The genius is that he has modified the machines according to the local need, specifically to make dever into fine tiles, which till date valley has not seen.

The primitive means of processing a stone by hand entails loss of 60 per cent, but in Ubaid’s unit this loss is minimized to just 15 per cent. This reduction in loss in turn has made the finished product cheaper by huge margins.

Crossing the mountains

Industrial mining

After completing one successful year in the trade, Ubaid has now moved to Kargil in Ladakh region for mining at much larger scale. Earlier he used to get raw material from local miners, but now he is into industrial mining.

No regrets

Ubaid does not regret turning down the lucrative job offer to chase his dream. Putting efforts, his business is giving good returns. After completing one year of operation this year, Ubaid’s sales have crossed 25 lakhs in a year. Not only this, his clientele has crossed the mountains of valley as he says there are orders from various parts of India especially from builders.

Slashing the prices down

Apart from producing special granite, white granite of eight shades, black, grey green granite, the attractive feature is the cost of granite from his unit comes down 30-40 per cent than rest of the market. “If black granite is for Rs 200, we sell it around 110,” says Ubaid.

Finding out intermediate path

Specialized to chisel Dever

Specialized to chisel Dever, Ubaid has decided not to forge into that segment. Reason he says, “I don’t want to disturb that market because so many people have livelihood attached to it. We don’t want to be their competitors.” So the next step he says is, “to find out intermediate path.” But according to young entrepreneur, if he comes into the market, the rates will be slashed by 50 per cent. The strength lies that the unit has capacity to reduce wastage to just 15 per cent.

Sky is the limit

With a capacity to produce 15 thousand sq feet of finished goods, Ubaid’s unit caters mainly to local market, including a small percentage to Jammu. With the introduction of few more machines which he is expected to get soon, the unit will have capacity of 60 thousand square feet. Regarding the market potential, he says “sky is the limit.”

movers and shakers of Kashmir economy

Ubaid is hopeful of future being good for the stone industry. According to his estimates, per year Kashmir imports granite, marble and other stones worth Rs 450 crore. “If things went well this sector is going to be major boast for our local economy in coming years. It has the potential of even competing with bigger movers and shakers of Kashmir economy like horticulture, tourism and handicrafts,” feels Ubaid. “But in order to achieve that government needs to initiate industry friendly reforms and measures.”

System that wants to pull you down

Happy to provide employement

As of now Ubaid is happy to provide employment to 25 people at his unit which he says is only going to increase if things went well. “If government takes this industry seriously it can generate employment of around 25 thousand youth within 5 years,” feels Ubaid.

Disheartening

Ask him what sort of challenges he faced in setting up this unit and he shots back, “it’s the system that wants to pull you down rather than help you grow, which is sad and disheartening.”

EDI failed to live up to his expectations

Ubaid feels that even EDI failed to live up to his expectations. For him a platform where entrepreneurs can discuss problems and seek solutions is more important than a facilitation centre. “Ten days of training and money won’t make you understand everything. Most of the problems crop-up once you start working. But then you have nobody to share with,” says Ubaid.

Unfriendly policies

Does not allow us to extract that

As far as government’s role is concerned Ubaid says that it has not even entertained Credit Guarantee cover, putting entrepreneurs at risk. Ubaid blames the government for deliberately neglecting the industry by making its survival difficulty by means of unfriendly policies. “Yearly we lose marble worth Rs 100 crore. But the government does not allow us to extract that,” claims Ubaid. “To keep my unit running I had to install an electric sub-station costing Rs 2 lakh, on my own.” Though Ubaid says that there are no rules of extraction in place in valley, built as he says on directions of Apex Court some draft rule have been formulated which enables him to go and start mining in Kargil.

Ubaid advocates that there should be major relief for budding entrepreneurs like interest wave off, friendly policies, and less official hiccups.

Exploring new possibilities

Enjoying being an entrepreneur

But despite all this Ubaid is enjoying being an entrepreneur. “Best thing about chasing your dreams is that you get to explore new possibilities every single day,” feels Ubaid.