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Indian liqour baron cultivates Kashmir hop'es

Srinagar, January 12, 2009:

Indian liquor baron Vijay Mallya plans to revive the hop production in Indian administered Kashmir, a flower used as flavouring agent in alcoholic beverages.

Chairman of Bangalore based United Breweries, Mallya announced his plans in Srinagar on Monday. United Breweries owns the Kingfisher brand of beers and other alcoholic beverages.

"I'll propose the (Kashmir) government to allow us to restart cultivation of hop which will also help generate employment in Kashmir valley," Mallaya told a news conference in the summer capital of Indian administered Kashmir.

Hops, the female flower cones are used primarily as a flavouring and stability agent in an alcoholic drink.

Mallya, also the chairman of Kingfisher Airlines and owners of Bangalore's Royal Challengers cricket team of the Indian Premier League (IPL) said his family was friends with the Abdullah family of Kashmir, which has ruled Kashmir for 27 years.

"Our company will soon ask chief minister (of Kashmir) Omar Abdullah to help restart hop cultivation in the Kashmir valley," said Mallaya.

Omar Abdullah is the third generation of Abdullahs. His grandfather Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was first prime minister of Kashmir after 1947 and later chief minister of the region after the devolution of powers of the State by the quasi-federal government at New Delhi.

Omar's father Farooq Abdullah has also served as chief minister of the State for 12 years in three terms.

Recalling old family ties Mallaya said his father Vittal Mallya was a friend to Sheikh Abdullah, and had started cultivating hop plants for manufacture of beer at Shilwath, 21 km north of Srinagar in 1973.

"It was a successful venture but after insurgency in Kashmir which started in late eighties, we wound the business up. Sheikh Abdullah inaugurated our enterprise," Mallya said.

In 1960ís a company under the name Solan was started as a distillatory in north Kashmir where hop berry were extracted.

In sixties Shia Muslim clerics raised voice against the cultivation and desisted sowing this liquor plants.

Mallya plans may however invite ire of the religious and separatist circles in the Muslim dominated Kashmir Valley, where the eruption of insurgency had stopped the hop cultivation in nineties.

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