West Bengal and Bihar are up in arms against the Centre’s move to dilute a rule that allows only jute packaging for foodgrains and sugar.
A note for the Union Cabinet prepared by the ministry of textile has proposed to reduce the compulsory usage of jute in grain and sugar packaging to 75 per cent from the existing 100 per cent. Under the Jute Packaging Materials Act, 1987, food grains and sugar should be compulsorily packed in jute.
The move will adversely affect more than 40 lakh jute farmers in the eastern region and benefit the plastic industry in the western region. About 2.4 lakh industrial workers and 5 lakh traders are estimated to be associated with the sector.
The Trinamool Congress, a key UPA ally, has opposed the move. “Late Rajiv Gandhi had initiated the policy two decades ago and any alterations at this stage are unacceptable,” said Saugata Roy, a party leader and Minister of State in the Ministry of Urban Development.
“I will take up the matter with the Centre. The move will break the backbone of jute farmers and industry,” said Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. “Government is promoting plastic industry which is harmful for environment and farmers,” Kumar said.
West Bengal Agriculture Minister Narendranath Dey said: “We have always been demanding promotion of jute across all packaging sectors, not just foodgrains because our state produces 80 per cent of the country’s total jute output... We feel the Centre has surrendered to the plastic industry.”
The Indian Jute Mills Association has approached Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee for intervention.
The plastic industry has welcomed the changes. “The jute industry is unable to supply the amount of bags that are required by the FCI (Food Corporation of India) and other procurement agencies,” said K K Seksaria, president of Indian Plastics Federation. “Moreover a substantial amount of foodgrains is lost every year while transporting them in jute gunny bags,” Seksaria said.