The jute industry announcing an indefinite strike beginning March 1 has thrown the supply of jute bags for 2019-20 Rabi season into turmoil.
Twenty trade unions from the Left parties and Congress have announced the strike over workers' unmet demands.
In West Bengal alone, there are 66 operative jute mills that provide direct and indirect employment to around 4,00,000 workers.
The strike comes at a critical juncture when concerns are mounting on supply of B Twill jute bags used for packing food grains and sugar. Industry observers feel the strike could have wide ramifications and deepen the existential supply crisis.
“New jute crop is due to arrive in the middle of March. The jute industry is already burdened with a shortfall of around 0.8 million (one bale is 180 kg) bales. The strike will accentuate the supply problems of jute bags”, said an industry source.
Over 70 per cent of the jute bags are absorbed by government procurement agencies. Each year, the government owned agencies procure 2.4 million bales of jute bags valued at Rs 6500 crore. For the 2019-20 Rabi season, government demand is pegged at 1.8 million bales.
The union food & textiles ministry fears that the situation could trigger crisis in the key jute bags procuring states of Punjab, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Indian Jute Mills Association (IJMA), the apex body for the besieged industry, has already issued instructions to its constituent members to comply with the government requirement. The central textiles ministry, however, is yet to be officially apprised on the strike.
This year, there is a forecast for robust jute crop. Raw jute prices are hovering around Rs 45,000 per tonne, higher than the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of Rs 37,500.