Excessive foodgrain production and their intensified procurement by government agencies, including the Food Corporation of India (FCI), have created acute shortage of jute bags required for packing. Consequently, a large quantity of the new season wheat procured by government agencies in Madhya Pradesh and Punjab has been left unpacked in open space amid mild drizzle, which may lead to spoilage. To meet immediate demand, the ministry of textiles has placed an order with manufacturers in Bangladesh to import 400,000 gunny bags.
When asked about the shortage, Indian Jute Mills Association Chairman Manish Poddar, said, “The problem is wrong planning and bunching of orders. The entire mess in MP has caused a problem for all other states. Import of bags is also not feasible.”
Apprehensions were also raised by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Parliament on Tuesday about the availability of bags and storing facilities for foodgrain. This year, total foodgrain production was estimated at 253 million tonnes (mt) as compared to 232.1 mt last year. Also, sugar output is estimated to rise to 26 mt this year, as compared to 24.7 mt last year.
“Earlier, the system was that FCI used to procure 25-30 per cent of the total foodgrain. The private sector used to intervene and they used to make arrangements for storing in their own facilities. But today, either state agencies or Union agencies like FCI are procuring more than 50 per cent, and I do agree that there is a mismatch between the creation of storing facilities and the level of procurement which is taking place. When purchase is done by the government agencies, there is a mismatch between the level of procurement and the quantum of storing facility,” Mukherjee had said.
The problem worsened this year due to the provision of 100 per cent mandatory packing of foodgrain and sugar in jute bags. Until last year, foodgrain and sugar were packed partly in plastic bags. But, pressurised by the Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the Centre made 100 per cent packing of foodgrain and sugar in jute bags mandatory. The finance minister rejected a proposal to substitute jute-packaging material with plastic material arguing, “It will cause permanent damage.”
Siraj Hussain, chairman, FCI, said, “It’s not FCI but state agencies are facing shortage of jute bags.”
Overall growth in jute production has lagged the proportionate increase in demand. As against a staggering 100 per cent increase in demand, jute production rose a marginal 5.9 per cent to 1.06 mt in 2011-12 from 999,000 tonnes recorded during the last season.
A senior official with the agriculture ministry, however, blamed miscalculation in procurement planning by the ministry of agriculture for this scenario.
There are 66 operating jute mills, of which 54 are in the West Bengal, with an installed capacity of 1.4-1.5 mt of jute bags. The present yearly demand for jute sacks of the mentioned varieties is around 1 mt. Total jute goods (sacking, hessian, CBC and JDPs) produced is around 1.7 mt with an installed capacity of around 2.2 mt.
Mukherjee has requested West Bengal industries minister to be in touch with the jute industry, as most units are located in Kolkata and surrounding areas, to step up production. He assured that additional jute bags will be made available by the middle of this month.
PTI adds: Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Wednesday blamed the Centre for shortage of gunny bags in the state.
“The Centre has not fulfilled its commitment of providing promised quantity of gunny bags to the state till date and since this year there is a bumper wheat crop, we have directed officials to identify places where wheat can be stored even without gunny bags and procure each and every grain of wheat, even after expiry of the May 31 deadline,” Chouhan said.