November 02, 2014

Problems of Jute Cultivation and Jute Industry

Hannan Mollah

JUTE is the oldest cash crop of eastern India. It is a natural coarse fibre, made from the stems of a tropical plant and used for making rope/yard and woven into sacking, hessian, etc. Raw jute, as it is known in trade, comprises jute and mesta fibres. Jute fibre is obtained from two plants species, such as Corchorus Capsylaris (white jute) and Corchorus Otitoruus (tossa jute). The plant species Hibiscus sabdariffa var, altissima yield mesta fibres. Besides, there is another type of fibre known as bimli but not in the same species of jute. Bimli is inferior in quality as well as cheaper to jute and is grown mainly in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The major jute crop is cultivated in West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Odisha, Tripura, Meghalaya and Andhra Pradesh.


Jute is a natural fibre and it is bio-degradable and soil-friendly, and used in packaging and in various ways as diversified product. Jute stick is the main source of fuel and finishing of orchards in the rural area. Jute cultivation created more employment of agricultural workers than any other crop. The major products of jute are sacking, hessian, cloths, carpet and now various diversified products. Among the jute producing countries, most important are India, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam, for this crop needs alternate rain and sunshine, fertile land, adequate water for retting, and manpower.


The British introduced jute mills in India for making bags for packaging, storage and transport of industrial and agriculture goods, carpeting and so many other uses. Research and development also opened up scope for many other uses of jute.


As jute is biodegradable, it is preferred by pro-people, scientific and environmentally conscious community and institutions all over the world. The UNESCO has strongly recommended the use of jute and natural fibre for packaging of food materials, particularly. But due to increasing use of synthetic and chemical materials in packaging, the demand of jute bags has been decreasing. Moreover, due to abolition/relaxation of custom duty inside the SAARC countries, import from Bangladesh is increasing. Hence the jute growers are facing inequality and tremendous hardship in the market. About 40 lakhs farmer are engaged in this cultivation all over the countries and lakhs of agricultural workers get job in this production. But now due to severe competition, peasants are bound to sell raw jute at a price below the cost of production, and facing crisis in spite of increase in production. As a result, large area of jute cultivation is being converted to other crops. This will destroy the livelihood of lakhs of farmer and jute workers. In the coming days, raw jute production will be minimised and jute industry will be dead industry!


Jute industry is one of the oldest industries and it is the most labour intensive industry in eastern India. There were more than hundred jute mills and three lakh jute mill workers in the country. This industry played an important role in earning foreign currency as well providing livelihood to lakh of families, and helped our economy to grow and sustain. Besides the jute workers played an important role in building our trade union movement and strengthening democratic movement in the country. The Bengal Chatkal Mazdoor Union is one of the pioneers in the struggle of the jute workers. It mobilised other unions and built up strong movement for the betterment of the workers as well as for the benefit of the economy. Their struggle forced Parliament to pass the Jute Packaging Materials (Compulsory Use in Packaging Commodities) Act, 1987 and jute was covered under the Essential Commodities Act. This act directs compulsory use of 100 per cent jute packaging for paddy, wheat and other food grains, along with sugar. Accordingly government agencies and various state governments had to implement the order and mechanism was adopted by the department of food and supply and the textile department of the government of India, through the Jute Commissioner. The National Jute Board (NJB) is there to supervise. But in NJB, there is no representation of farmers and jute workers. The Jute Corporation of India (JCI) was established for procurement of raw jute from the farmer. It was also empowered to announce the minimum support price for raw jute every year on the basis of the recommendation of the commissioner for agricultural costs and prices (CACP) for raw jute TD-5 grade ex-Assam. The office of the Jute Commissioner, based on this price, notifies prices of all the grades (TD-I to TD-8), for tossa and other varieties of mesta, and bimli grown in different parts of the country. Mainly the cost of production is to be taken into account in determining MSP. Jute Corporation of India Limited (Kolkata) is the nodal agency of the government of India to purchase raw jute under MSP. JCI had 171 departmental purchasing centres and 16 regional offices with the head office in Kolkata to ensure purchase of entire quantity of raw jute offered to them under MSP. But unfortunately, the JCI has been weakened in course of time. The number of purchasing centres reduced considerably. There is massive shortage of employees to run the centres. Adequate fund is not given to the disposal of JCI for purchasing jute in time. This year, the JCI entered the market very late causing distress sale of raw jute. CACP also determines the MSP which is much below the cost of production. All these added to the problem of jute cultivation in the country.


The jute mills purchase jute from JCI and produce various jute bags, cloths, carpet and other products, but the jute mills are very old. The jute mill owners only exploit the workers and earn massive profit but never try to modernise the jute industry. The workers organised continuous struggle for modernisation. The central government created a jute development fund for modernisation of jute mills. But the mill owners failed to utilise it. Besides they imposed workload on the workers continuously, reduced permanent workers, engaged “badli” workers who never become permanent. Many mill owners do not deposit the company share of money to the provident fund, do not improve the labour lines, create problem for payment of bonus every year, and refuse to pay increased dearness allowances, PF and Gratuities. ESI contribution is also not deposited regularly.


To fight against all these attacks on jute workers, BCMU and other unions organised many historical struggle including continuous strike. Every year, a section of jute mills remained closed to reduce the price of raw jute. Many jute mills were closed and then opened after bilateral agreement with workers where no other benefits, agreed upon in the tripartite agreement, were honoured, less wage was paid and working hour increased and forced the workers to produce more than their normal capacity. This year, about 20 jute mills in West Bengal were closed and thousands of workers were thrown out of jobs. The workers’ unions jointly fought against the closure and some mills were reopened.


The jute mills workers were forced to go on continuous struggle for their rights. Once the strike continued for 84 days, and in 2010 again there was 63 days’ strike. After these strikes, tripartite agreements were signed but most of the mill owners violated those agreements. By such dubious means, there was massive increase of production and they earned unprecedented profit. When 20 workers’ unions jointly submitted a new charter a demands in 2013, new attacks started. The owner decreased the number of working shifts from 18 to 12, and ran the mills for 314 days in a week. This caused serious problem for jute workers, whereas the central government has not come forward to protect the interest of the workers.


On the other hand, the central government always worked in the interest of the synthetic lobby. They have repeatedly diluted the jute packaging order. The order to use new bags for packaging paddy and wheat is violated by many state governments. The government is supposed to place order for jute bags before the new crops come in the market and the government order is to the tune of 15 to 20 % of the products. Rest is for private use. Now the private business people are using more and more synthetic. The governments of Punjab and Haryana are not using 100 per cent jute bags for packaging. Synthetic lobby is very strong and so increase of synthetic packaging is the death for jute industry. Against this, the workers fought continuously and submitted memorandum to the state and central governments but no action has been taken. Whereas the jute packaging is increasing all over the world as it is environment-friendly but in our country we are going to reverse it. To fight against this wrong policy of government and reduction of order for jute bags, the worker are preparing for big struggle as this has very serious impact on jute industry and jute production leading to the crisis in the livelihood of 2.50 lakh jute workers and 40 lakh jute growers.


The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has called a meeting of jute cultivators in Kolkata as its programme to build up crop-wise movement. Members from jute producing states attended the meeting. In the meeting, it was noted that the jute producing area has reduced considerably though the production of jute increased.


This is creating an uneven competition in the jute market. Beside the MSP decided by CACP is less than the cost of production. Purchase by the government and JCI is not adequate as its centres are less in number and they enter the market late. The government this year is permitting uses of synthetic bags for food grains packaging also. The Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government is not taking up the cause of the jute growers, and the order for jute bags by other states has been going down. The central government is helping cotton lobby through the Cotton Corporation of India but discriminating against jute. JCI has fine schemes for improving jute cultivation and jute industry, such as development of 10 market yards, contribution of 20 purchasing centres with godown and storage facilities, construction of retting tank, training of farmers about new retting technologies, and development of high speed ribbon for ribbon retting. But these are not implemented by JCI. On the other hand JCI is weakened in terms of its purchasing centre manpower and fund.


Indian farmers are doing hard labour and in spite of all difficulties and massive increase in input cost, they are producing more raw jute. Whereas jute producing area was 9,72,000 hectare in 2010-11 and production was 406,20000 bales, it has come down to 8,67000 hectare in 2013-14 but production has reached 1,14,17000 bales. But they are not getting proper price in the market. The MSP is arbitrary, not C2 + 50% as recommended by the Swaminathan Commission, but much below the cost of production.  For the year 2014-15, AIKS demanded minimum price of Rs 4,000 per quintal for TD-5 variety of raw jute but the government CACP declared Rs 2,400 only. This is not reasonable or profitable but below the cost of production. The erratic rain in early part of this year, and increased irrigation cost will definitely increase the cost of production to not less then Rs 3,000 per quntal or in some place Rs 3,500. So if proper price is not paid the small and marginal farmers will forced to distress sale.


In brief, jute cultivation and jute industry is under severe attack which was initiated by our own government at the Centre with planned motive in the interest of the synthetic lobby or big bigness and industry i.e. synthetic corporate house. In January 2014, the Government of India, by an order, further diluted compulsory packaging of food grains and sugar making space for synthetic bag. Latest blow to jute has been given by the government of India by reducing drastically demand and order for B-twill bags in the last quarter of June season -- that is April-May/June. There was no order practically. Most of the mills reduced production and purchase of raw jute from the market. Even in mid-August when nearly 25 per cent of raw jute comes in the market, there were no buyer -- neither private not public i.e. JCI.


The plan was set by the UPA government and final stroke are coming from the present NDA government led by Narendra Modi of BJP. This is causing serious trouble for the jute cultivators and jute workers and the economy of West Bengal, Assam and other jute producing state. AIKS will have to take up the issue and organise jute farmers for remunerative price in all the states. At the same time, we have planned joint movement with jute mill workers too. They are also fighting for implementation of wage agreement, abolition of contract labour system, and against the reduction of working days and hours. Joint movement of workers and peasants should raise their own sectional issues as well as issues of environment, health and employment.


AIKS wrote to the textile minister drawing his attention to these problems. Recently the ministers for textile and commerce visited Kolkata, and AIKS delegates met them and demanded saving jute farmers and jute workers. They demanded: a) Implementation of the Jute Packaging Materials (Compulsory Use in Packaging Commodities) Act, 1987 in its totality and 100 per cent use of jute bags for food grains and sugar packaging; b) To activate JCI and strengthen it so that it can purchase raw jute from village and MSP of jute should be increased to Rs 4,000; c) all jute mills should run in full capacity and nationalised mills be reopened and industry should be modernised; d) jute farmers’ representative should be inducted in the National Jute Board, CACP and JCI for better coordination. E) The state governments and the Centre should take more and more initiative to save jute cultivation and jute industry.


This is the proper time for the jute cultivators and jute workers to come to the street and build up strong movement in the country.