"The government has sent a letter to the federal Health Ministry mentioning the shortage of condoms and seeking fresh supplies," a senior health ministry official said on Sunday.

Kashmir's Family Welfare department, which distributes free condoms to encourage married couples to limit the size of their families, has had to turn people away, the official said. 

Rising numbers

The demand for condoms in Muslim-majority Kashmir has risen significantly, according to Saleem-u-Rehman, a senior official in the family welfare department. 

Rehman's department distributed 1.1 million condoms in 2002, 1.8 million in 2003 and 2.6 million in 2004. Last year's figures were not available but officials believe that they had risen further.

Altaf Ahmed, a pharmacist, said condom sales were increasing every year. "People want to limit the size of their families and using condoms is the best way to do that," he said. 

Indian Kashmir has implemented sex education in schools and has sought the help of religious leaders to combat the onslaught of Aids.