Agri Business

Bengal orders re-opening of jute mills, but with riders

Abhishek Law/Shobha Roy Kolkata | Updated on April 15, 2020 Published on April 15, 2020

The West Bengal government has granted permission to re-open all jute mills in the State. The mills, though, will have to operate with 15 per cent of their labour force, maintain social distancing norms, and also ensure that healthcare services are provided to workers, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, said.

The decision comes in the wake of the Centre repeatedly urging West Bengal government to resume operations across these jute mills. The mills have to be on operation to ensure availability of gunny bags for packing of foodgrains and pulses, especially at the time of harvesting.

It is to be noted that as many as 60 jute mills in the State have shut down their operations since March 23 following lockdown orders issued in the wake of the outbreak of Covid-19. However, even with all mills reopening with 15 per cent of workforce would not be sufficient to meet the packaging demand.

It is estimated that close to 2 lakh workers produced close to 3,500 tonnes of jute products each day before the lockdown was announced. According to official estimates, close to 6.1 lakh bales are yet to be manufactured due to inadequate capacities, which have been further accentuated by non-functional mills. There is also likely to be an additional demand for around 0.40 lakh bales.

“With this 15 per cent staff we will not be even able to achieve a fraction of the required capacity,” said a senior industry official.

Centre’s request

Incidentally, Union Textile Minister Smriti Irani has written to the Chief Minister urging her to open ‘select jute mills’, approximately 18, with 25 per cent labour force working on a roaster basis, to enable making of gunny bags and ensure smooth procurement operations during the upcoming Rabi marketing season. The letter also mentions that the Jute board commissioner will be overseeing such reopening and labour operations.

This is the second time that the Centre has urged West Bengal to re-open jute mills since the coronavirus-induced lockdown begun. The Ministry of Food and Public Distribution had earlier written to the State government urging them to direct the jute mills to start operations to meet the increased demand for jute bales.

However, Banerjee had rejected the request, saying “it was still not safe” to restart operations at jute mills.

According to Banerjee, while reopening of just 18 jute millls would suffice, however, it would be unfair on the remaining ones here.

“As Chief Minister, I should not pick and choose just 18 jute mills. So all jute mills can reopen, but with 15 per cent work force. Salary payments across most have been hit. There is no point in furthering the economic hardships,” she said.

The jute mill owners have been asked to follow social distancing norms and also ensure that health services are provided.

“Reopening jute mills also mean we run the risk of increasing our hotspots. But, the state government will maintain strict surveillance in these areas and carry out period health checks in these localities. Even mill owners should carry out health checks and ensure sanitisation of premises,” she said.

The Indian Jute Mills Association (IJMA) has appointed PwC to make standard operating procedures for the mills in line with the guidelines provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs, said Sanjay Kajaria, ex-Chairman and a committee member of IJMA.

Published on April 15, 2020

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