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The killing of the Northbrook Jute Mill CEO in Bhadreshwar in Hooghly district has once again thrown the spotlight on the many problems faced by the sector.
The mills face stiff competition from artificial fibres such as polypropylene and suffer the problem of low labour productivity. Thus, the jute produced in India is incredibly expensive when compared to artificial products and the jute produced by other countries.
In order to tackle the rising labour cost and prevent blocking the capital, the management of mills often call for temporary suspension of operations or cut back on daily shift hours.
These measures have resulted in much acrimony as reduced shift time means lesser pay, which in turn leads to management-worker tussles.
“The system here is no work, no pay and the management regularly decrease our working hours. How do we survive?” asks Mohammad Akhtar Rahman, a worker of Angus jute mill of Bhadreswar in Hooghly district.
To provide some help to the ailing sector, the Union government rolled out the Jute Procurement Act of 1987, which ensured a market for jute products by making jute bags mandatory for transporting food grain and sugar.
Experts on the industry as well as officials from the Union government feel that while the Act provided a safe cushion for the industry, it made modernisation difficult.
“One of the major hurdles behind the modernisation attempts is the ownership pattern. When the Centre and the state government announced a package for the modernisation of the industry in the 1980s, most of the mills could not utilize those funds because they were being run by lease-holders, and often by sub-lease-holders, and not the owners” said jute industry activist Naba Dutta.
The real blow came during the financial year 2012-13, when the Union government diluted the Act by limiting usage of jute bags.
“Jute needs a political solution. The state and Centre need to set differences aside and discuss to find a solution to prevent tension among workers and the management of all jute mills,” said IJMA past president, Sanjay Kajaria.