The beleagured jute industry in Bengal suffered another setback on Friday with Punjab, the highest consumer of jute bags – gunny bags in mill parlance – deciding not to buy about two lakh bales, or about 4% of Bengal’s annual produce.
According to industry veterans, the step would immensely hurt the state’s labour-intensive industry that is weighed down by rising stocks, lack of orders, a number of closures and labour violence.
Senior Indian Jute Mills Association (IJMA) officials told HT that DK Chauhan, joint secretary of the food ministry, held a meeting with the officials of different states in Delhi on Friday. Punjab has categorically said that it won’t buy about two lakh bails of jute bags from jute factories during this season. RD Meena, resident commissioner of Bengal, and deputy jute commissioner Dipankar Mehta were present at the meeting.
“We are making all-out efforts to get orders from states who assured us to buy jute products,” Subrata Gupta, jute commissioner, told HT.
During May, Punjab had assured the Centre and the IJMA to buy jute bags from 84 mills all over the country. Of these, 62 are in Bengal that account for about 85% of the national production.
“Our industry is heading for disaster. The Punjab government has just decided not to place any indent unless the ministry of textiles allows it to buy 30 kg plastic bags. It is an arm-twisting tactic. This is the first time that a consumer is dictating terms to the government,” said Sanjay Kajaria, immediate past president of IJMA.
“If they have the power to dictate terms to the Centre, then the industry virtually has no locus standi. They can take us for a ride any day and any time,” he added.
Recently, some IJMA leaders had secretly met the Punjab food minister and had promised to set up a few 30 kg jute bag stitching units in the state. The Mamata Banerjee government might not be aware of such a move to drive out ‘capital’ from Bengal, a senior IJMA member alleged.
“The decision of the Punjab government is just the tip of the iceberg. In future all food procuring agencies will create pressure on the Centre to stop buying jute bags and allow them to purchase cheap plastic materials. If that happens, the industry will face an unprecedented crisis,” the IJMA member said.
“At all costs, we have to save the industry and reverse the situation in our favour. We do not think it will be possible with the present IJMA leadership. We have requested the state government to show ‘political will’ to save the industry. The state government has welcomed the proposal,” he added.
The current IJMA president Raghavendra Gupta did not respond to HT calls.