The Indian Jute Mills Association efforts to reinforce the jute industry which is heading toward debacle seems to have failed as Punjab, the highest consumer of jute bags has deciding not to buy about two lakh bales or about 4 percent of Bengal’s annual produce. This is an immense blow of state’s labour intensive industry that is weighed down by rising stocks, lack of orders, a number of closures and labour violence. The hassled jute industry in Bengal suffered another setback on Friday with Punjab, reluctant on buying jute bags. Senior Indian Jute Mills Association (IJMA) officials said that DK Chauhan, joint secretary of the food ministry, held a meeting with the officials of different states in Delhi on Friday. Punjab has firmly 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. Subrata Gupta, jute commissioner said that they are making all-out efforts to get orders from states who have assured them to buy jute products. 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. 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 the industry 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. At all costs, the industry needs to be saved and reverse the situation in the industry’s favour. A proposal has been put forward requesting the state government to show ‘political will’ to save the industry which has been welcomed by the state government. The decision of the Punjab government is just the tip of the iceberg. If this is allowed to continue, 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.
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