FCI, largest consumer of jute, says this has meant problems for the Public Distribution System (PDS). Each year, the agency buys 0.8-1 million tonnes of sacking, valued at Rs 6,000 crore, on behalf of itself and state procurement agencies.
In a letter to the government's Jute Commissioner, it has said: "During the last one year, specifications of jute gunny bags have been revised two times, diluting bag weight, breaking strength, etc. Thereby, FCI had to face huge difficulties due to bleeding bags, resistance from PDS authorities and wastage of foodgrain. It is understood that there is (yet another) proposal to use higher proportions of TD-6 twills and other lower grade jute in the manufacture of bags.
This could further dilute the quality, making it worse (for storage)."
FCI has the responsibility for maintaining a buffer stock for a period of eight to 12 months, at least.
Dipankar Mahato, deputy jute commissioner, declined to comment.
The jute commissioner's office had in December 2015 introduced lighter weight bags of 580g, replacing the traditional 665g ones. The government started purchase of bags with the revised specification from the Kharif season of 2016.
Only higher grades of raw jute (TD-3,4 & 5 varieties) are suitable for manufacturing the lightweight bags. The bulk of raw jute is the low-grade variety (TD-6/7 and below). This has apparently created a demand-supply imbalance, with 2.8 million bales of low-grade jute in the surplus and a million bales of high grade in deficit.
And, due to lower use of inferior grades, the price of raw jute is now Rs 22,000 a tonne; the government's Minimum Support Price is officially Rs 35,000 a tonne.