Amphan leaves Bengal’s crisis-ridden jute mills battered and bruised
The fresh crisis comes at a time when mills in Bengal were under pressure from other states to produce bags on an emergency basis for transportation of Boro rice and relief materials being supplied to people during lockdown.Updated: May 24, 2020 18:58 IST
Already reeling under the ongoing lockdown, many jute mills in Bengal have suffered structural and material losses during cyclone Amphan that hit Kolkata and surrounding districts on May 20.
Among the worst-hit mills are a few the state’s oldest ones located in South 24 Parganas and Howrah districts, Raghavendra Gupta, chairman Indian Jute Mills Association (IJMA), told HT on Sunday. Set up in 1884, IJMA is the apex business chamber for India’s jute industry.
Bengal is the highest producer of jute in the country. The fresh crisis comes at a time when mills in Bengal were under pressure from other states to produce bags on an emergency basis for transportation of Boro rice and relief materials being supplied to people during lockdown.
“Although there is no report of any damage to machinery, structures of the mills and stored raw jute suffered damage. We are yet to calculate the extent of loss but supplies of jute products will be definitely hit. All the 60 operational jute mills in the state had started production (with limited manpower) during the lockdown,” said Gupta.
Incidentally, last week IJMA said that during the lockdown the industry suffered a nationwide loss of Rs 1250 crore.
“The jute Industry is grappling for survival after being in lockdown for over one and a half months now. Already 1.5 lakh metric tonnes of production of jute goods has been lost estimated to be valued at Rs.1,250 crore. With the cash flows drying up, jute mill companies are finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet,” IJMA said in a statement on May 19.
On April 3, the Centre urged the Bengal government to direct jute mills to resume operation in view of shortage in supply of packaging materials. In a letter, the Centre said, “Procurement operations of foodgrain, for which availability of packaging material like jute bales are immensely required by major procuring states like Punjab, Harayana, Uttar Pradesh and Madya Pradesh where procurement operations will begin from April and peak season is for only two-three weeks only,” the letter said.
On April 5, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to open jute bag manufacturing units in Bengal and ensure transportation of jute bags through special goods trains to his state. Rao told Modi that there was a severe scarcity of bags and Telangana needed 20 crore jute bags to procure paddy.
The Bengal government, however, issued permission to the jute mills to resume operation with limited manpower. Initially, permission was given to deploy only 15 per cent people which was later increased to 50 per cent in phases.
Gupta told HT last week that the future of over three lakhs jute mill workers and 40 lakhs jute farmers hang in balance and if the situation persists it may result in permanent sickness and closure of mills.
“Jute industry’s loss has been plastic industry’s gain. Continuous dilutions under the provisions of the Jute Packaging Act has taken place over the lockdown period. Already about 3 lakh bales of orders for jute bags have been diverted to PP/ HDPE industry. If the lockdown situation continues any longer, further dilutions cannot be ruled out,” IJMA said in a recent statement.
“The damage done by Amphan is going to hit relief work. This is a new crisis,” said a senior state food and supplies department official who did not want to be named. The department’s minister Jyotipriyo Mullick could not be contacted despite repeated attempts because of failure in mobile network.
According to IJMA, the carryover of raw jute at the end of the jute crop year 2019-20 is expected to be over 22 lakh bales. “With reports of normal sowing this year, across all jute growing areas, the prices of jute fibre has fallen below the Minimum Support Price of Rs. 4,225 per quintal for TDN3 grade,” said IJMA in a statement.