In order to avert a crisis in packaging food grains amid the continuing strike in the jute industry in West Bengal, the Centre has diluted the mandatory order for packaging food grains in jute bags, issuing a notification which allows a relaxation of up to 3.8 lakh bales for the kharif marketing season 2009-10 and rabi marketing season 2010-11.

Trade union leaders said the strike — called by 20 trade unions, barring the one supported by the Trinamool Congress — entered its 17th day, and added that they were prepared for a long haul.

Fifty mills are participating in the strike that has been called to press for the implementation of earlier settlements.

The Indian Jute Mills Association, the apex industry association, has said that its ability to make better payments was conditional upon workers bringing better productivity and the Centre paying them higher prices as recommended by the Tariff Commission.

The Jute Packaging Materials (Compulsory Use in Packaging Commodities) Act 1987 reserved food grains and sugar for 100 per cent packaging in jute material. The Textiles Ministry feels that the estimated requirement for the two harvesting season will be 10.48 lakh bales between November 2009 and February 2010.

In view of the strike, the government feared that the industry may not be in a position to meet the requirements of the procurement agencies. The exemption, which is likely to favour the synthetic packaging material maker lobby, would be valid for the procurement and packing of food grains till May 31, 2010.