Friday, January 17, 2014


There is general perception that business organizations have profit upper most in their mind ignoring all other interests of importance to the society at large. Food industry in general and consumer groups are always on a collision course during the last 100 years of history because of this wide spread perception. The most recent conflict regarding the demand by consumers in the US for declaring presence of GMO ingredient in packed food is an apt example of this universal syndrome. In India the jute industry, which is one of the largest in the world, is being accused of seeking killing profits by diverting their products to open market violating the law of the country which stipulates that 80% of the jute bags produced by them must be given for food grain packing. Under the present conditions in the country where silos are far and few and plastic bags are not suitable for grain packing, jute is the only option and India is a top grain producing country in the world needing substantial quantity of jute bags.Here is critique on this new conflict between the jute industry and government of India vis-a-vis jute bag supply.   

"The Jute Commissioner has leveled serious charges and pulled up the jute industry for faltering on commitments by diverting jute bags to the open markets to secure higher prices. The bags were meant for supplying to government procurement agencies to pack food grains in 2012-13. The industry has been accused of making misleading statements on the decision taken by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA). On November 28, CCEA decided to de-reserve the Jute Packaging Materials Act (JPMA), 1987 and allowed use of plastic bags, replacing jute bags for packing 80% sugar and 10% food grains produced in the country in 2013-14. As per the Act, it is mandatory for the government procuring agencies to pack the entire food grains and sugar in jute bags.In a letter to the Union textiles ministry, the Jute commissioner Subrata Gupta held that in 2012-13, the jute mills preferred to sell in the open market and were thus unable to supply to the government indented quantities meant for packing of food grains. To cope up with the situation, the government was compelled to dilute the reservation order. In 2012-13, the CCEA decided to use 60 %  plastic bags for packing sugar and 10% for packing food grains. Gupta said there are number of precedents to prove that the jute industry is incapable of supplies. Therefore, the government has decided to use plastic bags".

One may ask as to why there should be government control of an industry, especially under the liberalized economic regime adopted by the country since nineteen nineties. If one goes back in history, it becomes clear that jute industry actually wanted government prop for survival and accordingly government made it compulsory to use jute bags for packing food grains. This gave a big fillip to the jute industry which got a captive market for decades. Now that new awareness about plastics and their unsustainability has dawn on many countries, natural fibers like jute and coir started getting more attention and consequently are in greater demand.Either government must make the industry free from its legal obligations or enforce the legal steps to ensure 80% of production is supplied by the industry to the food grain industry. There are alternatives like plastic woven sacks which cal also be used for food grains packing though they are not amenable for sampling or using hooks to handle them. h


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