Almost all the industries of the world have been facing demand shortages in the Covid-19 period. Surprisingly, the jute industry in India has been an exception. This industry has been thinking of how to meet the supply of products according to the market requirements. “Jute industry is not at all facing any demand constraint, we have been only thinking of how to meet our huge supply requirements,” said Raghabendra Gupta, Chairman, Indian Jute Manufacturers’ Association (IJMA), to BE.
India is the largest producer of jute and jute products in the world. It has also been the biggest exporter of jute products. It is an agro based industry with more than four crore people involved in this sector. This is one of the oldest organised industries in the country. It was first established on the west bank of the Ganges at Rishra in 1855, about16 km north-west of Kolkata. In spite of being a core industry in the state of West Bengal and an important industry of the country, it is very problematic according to many observers. The problem started from the 1960s when the state faced deindustrialisation. Some people think the strong left political interference in the industry was the root cause of deindustrialisation. But many serious researches on this topic observed that the root cause had been the other way round. That is, when quite a number of industries began to lose its viability in West Bengal, exploitation of labour began to increase. In that situation, labour movement in various industries intensified.
Many things in industrial scenario changed in due course but the situation of jute industry remained more or less the same. Most of the labourers of the industry are known to be displeased with the attitude of the jute mill owners. They think that non industrialist attitude of the present jute mill owners is the main problem. They are not interested in running mills transparently or in reinvesting capital out of profits in the industry to modernise it and improve productivity of the workers. Most of the labourers are either casual workers or badli workers (working as temporary replacement in absence of a permanent worker) at much lower pay and without any social protection. Naba Dutta, Secretary, Nagarik Mancha, told BE that even volume of jute production in India or volume of import of it from Bangladesh are not clearly revealed. Wage fixation in the presence of representatives of mill owners, trade unions and government, was avoided by the mill owners tactfully. Debashis Dutta, General Secretary, Federation of Chatkal Majdoor Unions, said that almost `1200 crore is due to the workers of the industry for long. The industry has been a profit-making industry but nothing is clearly stated by the mill owners.
The industry has been badly affected by the Covid-19 phase according to Gupta. From the last week of March, the mills were closed due to lockdown. Gupta said that from June, the situation of the industry has been normalising gradually. In West Bengal, Amphan cyclone has also adversely affected the industry.
Despite facing many odds, why is the industry not facing any demand shortages? This is because of high demand of jute products exists in the market. Actually, demand for jute bags, the main product of the industry has been higher, said Gupta. The production of Rabi crop is higher in India. Therefore, the demand for jute bags to store crops is higher. Gupta said, “The total production of the industry is 12.5 million tonnes (MT). But out of this government alone purchases 9MT.” The biggest advantage that the jute industry enjoys has been the confirmed purchase of 75% of its products by the government. The rest of the products are easily sold in the domestic and foreign markets at profitable prices. The industry is trying hard to meet the production loss due to the pandemic. But the trade union leaders do not agree with the production disruption. They think a big portion of workers go their homes in Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and elsewhere every year in the summer. But Gupta said that the industry has lost about `1500 crore due to lockdown. About 16% of the annual production has been lost in this phase. He also stated that this year, the government has declared `4250/quintal and minimum support price of jute for Pd3 quality.