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Shaken jute industry looks to State govt for help

Indrani Dutta
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A view of a jute mill in Kolkata. —FILE PHOTO: AFP
A view of a jute mill in Kolkata. —FILE PHOTO: AFP

Shaken by the death of one of its senior managers at the hands of ‘workers’, the jute industry is now looking to the State government for succour, fearing that such incidents may otherwise, become pervasive.

In a gory incident of workmen reprisal, the Chief Executive Officer of the North Brooke Jute Mill succumbed to his injuries after facing mob-fury within the mill premises on Sunday. This is the seventh such attack since 2001 on jute mills’ executives, Sanjay Kajaria, owner of several jute mills, said.

The latest round of violence was triggered by workers’ fears of loss of wages due to a management proposal of cutting back on work hours due to paucity of demand.

The Jute Packaging Materials (Compulsory Use in Packing Commodities) Act, 1987, stipulating compulsory packaging of foodgrains, sugar, cement and fertiliser was passed by the Centre to help the jute industry.

However, industry experts say that the shrinking sector’s trouble began when the industry started treating a ‘helpline’ as their mainstay. “Any dilution in the mandatory portions” sparked tension in the industry, which had failed to modernise and enhance their cost competitiveness vis-a-vis plastic bags.

IJMA Chairman Raghav Gupta told The Hindu that this year’s problems could be traced to the overestimation of foodgrains during the rabi season (90 per cent of which should be packed in jute bags as per mandatory order), by the then UPA II government. This was repeated during a part of the kharif season, too.”

The jute industry geared up to meet a bolstered production target, which never materialised. “This necessitated a 25-40 per cent production cut-back and losses on account of the raw jute which was purchased in anticipation of an increased order.”

It is with this end in view that the industry is seeking protection from the State government (where the industry is concentrated) by way of mandatory packaging of potatoes and rice — two commodities where West Bengal leads the country. “This can boost demand significantly and perhaps help stem such violence, which is often fomented by outsiders,” an industry source said.

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