The movement of industrialisation was initiated way back in 19th century by coal mining, engineering and the two textiles industries including cotton and jute. For some decades before seventies, the jute industry's contribution in the total foreign exchange revenue of our country remained the single highest, fluctuating between 25 and 33 per cent. According to history, the share of the jute industry to the national economy has been truly exceptional.
The destiny of the ancient jute industry has been variable and there have been various ups and downs. However, the separation of the country in 1947 resulted in a major political disturbance, unparalleled in any huge industry anywhere, when all of a sudden it was found that while the entire industry settled in India, most of the jute cultivating areas went to the then East Pakistan, which regrettably became an unfriendly neighbour at that moment. It is pointless to point out that jute industry is fully depended on the natural jute fibre, which is an annually renewable agro supply that cannot be replaced economically by any other fibre. Under such crucial turnaround of state of affairs for the Indian jute industry, the British who had power over a very large segment of this industry, though not entirely, unsurprisingly panicked and decided to hand over their possession to the newly rising class of Indian industries. For many of them, It was their first giant step into a big industry. The credit goes to the Indian industrialists, the Union government and the state governments in eastern India who jointly accepted this challenge and inspired the farming fraternity to get on with jute farming in a big way.
The weather conditions in eastern India were favourable and we soon became effectively self-reliant in our fibre needs. Our neighbouring country was determined not to sell their raw jute to the jute industry in India and hence preferred to set up new jute mills with the support of the machine manufacturers in the United Kingdom. While the determination displayed by the jute industry and the farming fraternity was truly extraordinary and commendable, the sudden surfacing of several new jute mills in the then east Pakistan generated large extra capacities, but growth of new products like jute carpet backing combined with continuous increase in the food grains production in the country facilitated to solve the problem of imbalance in demand and supply. India reappeared as the largest raw jute manufacturer and maintained this status.
Growth in last 50 years
Undeterred by all adversities and countless problems, the raw jute manufacturing in India has continued to go up and so has its demand due to excessive production in the jute industry. There is a strong basic structure for the jute industry available in India. Soon after independence and resulting separation of the country, the upper class of the Indian jute industry in a truly visionary manner founded two top-notch institutions, namely the Institute of Jute Technology and IJMARI.
The Institute of Jute Technology was started by IJMA to develop human capitals in the form of jute technologists with focused expertise to utilize the potential of the jute fibre taking into account of its own features and strengths for manufacturing jute products. It was believed that Serampur College of Textile Technology did not give special attention to jute spinning and weaving and the Dundee Institute in Scotland was too far to impart expert learning and talent. The Institute of Jute Technology at Ballygunge Circular Road in Kolkata has been the most distinguished institution in this area in the world today.
IJMARI i. e. The Indian Jute Mills Research Institute was also established by IJMA with a view to founding a world class R&D institute for product improvement, quality promise, technology absorption as well as for its continued advancement. This impressive institute situated at Taratolla Road, Kolkata was built originally as an extension of the industry itself or devoted R&D work. It is now recognised as Indian Jute Industries Research Association. Mr Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, inaugurated the outstanding IJIRA centre at Taratolla Road.
Considering the enormous economic importance of the jute sector in the national economy, the Government of India has also founded Institutions such as NIRJAFT for focused R&D work in enhancing newer jute products and associated technologies as also CRIJAF which is devoted exclusively to progressive work regarding jute agriculture. Both of these institutions, being controlled by government, have not yet fulfilled our expectations but their capability to contribute is very considerable, especially in view of projected setting up of Jute Technology Mission which is currently given consideration by the Government of India with special importance on jute agriculture. CRIJAF is now preparing itself for various activities and may perform a decisive role in increasing the fibre quality as well as production per acre. As per their calculation, the Indian jute crop has the ability to reach the level of 17 millions bales as against the present level of 11.5 millions bales without much of a spread in the land area.
To constantly finance institutions like IJIRA and Institute of Jute Technology set up by itself, the industry had spoke to on its own the Union government to levy a fiscal tax in the form of cess therefore the jute industry could regularly contribute to these necessary activities for progress. JMDC also came into being as an outcome of this exercise started by the Indian Jute Mills Association in association with the Government of India.
Thus, JMDC was born as a constitutional body to channelise the funds for institutions like IJIRA and IJT as also to give specific marketing initiatives out of the said cess funds. JMDC is devoted to support in the area of creating markets for jute products, specially overseas, as also for expanding still larger and newer range of jute products which are often defined, perhaps incorrectly as variegated jute products. JMDC also performs a catalytic function for developing standards of excellence. They have a key responsibility in several such activities as also in promoting jute products internationally, more so now considering the rising necessity and demand for eco friendly packaging products the world over.
Current Picture and Ample Growth Opportunity
Everyone knows that jute is an annually renewable natural fibre and the jute industry can well be defined as one of the least polluting. In the present perspective of increasing approval of ecological and environmental interests, the jute sector in India is likely to surface as an important agency of development for the economy, only if there is sufficient and real respect for the environmental interests and the need to generate employment openings. The jute industry provides one of the most possible and potent opportunities that ought to be exploited by our policy makers to cope with the critical problem of joblessness in India. At the same time, the development of natural fibre and agro-based jute industry also fulfils the purpose of sustainable economic progress and human advancement.
Taking into account of extensive and honest appreciation that jute is a natural fibre and an agro-based industry, both jute agriculture and industry provide enormous scope of sustaining and generating new employment opportunities, a brilliant course of action requires to be specially planned and executed. This will facilitate us to undertake a quite substantial development plan in the jute sector in the next 5 to 7 years, both in terms of raw jute production and production of jute goods, which will help considerably in shrinking cost also. It can openly notice the rising needs of jute used in packaging all kinds of fit-to-eat products which are sure to grow very considerably in the coming years for which jute provides the most fitting packaging medium, free of health perils.
Jute Geo Textiles: A Major Thrust Area
The abovecited development plan, if executed should also consider, the expected volatile flow in demand of jute geo textile, which can be explained as natural fibre engineering material to satisfy technical and functional needs for soil connected problems. We have discovered that there are various benefits of jute geo textiles emerging from of its natural, unique features which make them eco fitting and soil friendly for end uses in soil consolidation, road construction, river bank and coastal protective work, construction of earthen embankments, slope management, soil erosion control etc.
IJIRA in partnership with various governmental authorities and academic institutions of national stature have conducted sizeable R&D work. Numerous types of jute geo textiles have been evolved and put to field tests in some industries such as ports, railways, irrigation sections, coal fields, state public works included with road building, etc in recent years. Functioning of jute geo textiles in all the field tests has been turned up to be satisfying and the laboratory research has validated effectiveness of JGT in resolving number of geo technical problems being eco friendly and bio degradable has a natural choice over the synthetic geo textiles in several function and indicative cost comparison between the two is beneficial for jute geo textiles. It appears that JGT may prove to be a main thrust area for expansion in the jute industry in the future.
It is often supposed that synthetic packaging in proportion to jute packaging is cost effective. This is a mistaken statement at least in India. Jute bags are surely costlier for the first user but the use of jute bags in packaging sugar and food grains is not new in India. This practice certainly cannot be seen in the developed countries since gathering of used bags for re-cycling cannot be done there any more though it was much practised there earlier. In India, there is a vast network all through the country for gathering the used bags, separating as per quality and condition, mending when needed, re-bundling of these bags and re-distributing them for several needs. The plastic woven bags, which impart price competition to jute bags, are at last proved costlier since the used synthetic bags bring inconsiderable value in proportion to jute bags. If environmental and bionomic loss generated by the non-biodegradable plastic woven bags was to be considered, these might really calculate to be many times more expensive, surprising as it might seem to those who have not observed the depth of the matter.
It is a fallacious thinking that jute industry has continued to be static and has been unwilling to modernisation. Contrary to widespread idea, generally, all the tested available technology has been taken up in the Indian jute industry. Established technology inevitably assumes financially feasible feature. Expansion of superior technologies is the need of the hour. Growth of such high technology device in line with the jute fibre requires heavy investment in India. Since there is no worldwide demand, it is not practical to expect machinery producers outside India to plan and design these devices. India today has achieved a status of financial progress where such R&D work can be carried out at home. The individual jute mill owners would never be interested in investing largely on such R&D work whose results never remain certain. The development of pretended state-of-the-art or to put it mildly, ultra-modern machinery takes substantial time. Thus, it is obvious that it is the Union government, which has to raise fund and monitor such special projects in this direction based on the appraisal in dialogue with the jute industry as well as machinery makers. We, in the industry, are sure that once technically and economically viable prospects are put before it, the industry or at least a main share of it would be much desirous and eager to grab such an opportunity and our trade union friends would also abstain from hampering such growth as of now. The survival spirit is shared by one and all.
Immensity of Jute Industry in India
There are four million jute farmers in our country. This figure mentions the time when the crop size was thinner. The current amount of the jute crop being much larger without any recent growth in the production per acre, this figure of four million farmers may, in truth, be significantly larger but at present we should think about four million jute farmers. It has been approximated that there are at least three million farm labourers employed from time to time and especially at the time of harvesting and plant retting, fibre extracting, drying, grading, baling, etc. It is believed that during such time, half of the working population in jute producing districts gets occupied with jute agriculture one way or the other. Then there are 2.5 lakh million people engaged in jute commerce as intermediary, operating at several stages between the farmers and jute consumers i. e. the industry.
Apart from tens of thousands of people served the jute industry's auxiliary sectors, there are a quarter million people directly employed in the jute industry. Now we should be able to think about that there are at least 8 million breadwinners who feed their families partially or wholly by producing, marketing and manufacturing jute products. And the number of such breadwinners is likely to increase, as we will come across in a while. At this juncture, it should be stated that India has now come out as one of the largest manufacturer of agricultural products in the world. Actually, we are the second largest generally speaking in the agricultural segment. While we have been from the very beginning the largest producer of raw jute and manufactured jute produces as well as tea, we have lately grown to be numero unio in milk, rice and sugar as well. Today Brazil comes second in terms of sugar production and in jute and jute products Bangladesh is far behind India. Regarding the agricultural production, India is sure to carry on the progressive march.
Our annual jute production is currently at the point of 1.6 million tons out of which 1.2 million tons includes alleged sacking and hessian bags for consumption in the local market for packaging food grains, pulses, sugar, potatoes, onions, etc.
Our present annual production of food grains in the country is of the order of 210 million tons. At present our sugar production is approximately 17.5 million tons. Packing of sugar has to be made entirely in new jute bags but only about 50 million tons of grains out of the total production of 210 million tons is bagged in new jute sacks. Approximately 50 million tons of food grains is for self-use and does not need transportation and hence packing. The residual food grains which may amount to 110 million tons and various other agricultural produces like pulses, jeera (cumin seed), mirchi (chilli) and a number of such goods amounting to quite a few millions of tons, are usually packed in used jute bags.
The jute bags in India are accepted to be utilized at least six times and this is an exceptional quality to be kept in mind when we discuss jute packaging of the Indian local markets. Therefore, Jute packaging is distinctive if we begin to recognize that jute bags are put to recurring uses. Moreover, a jute bag is never discarded even after 6th or more uses in packaging goods. Finally, after repeated six to seven uses, it is either utilised as a raw material in the paper industry or is re-cycled in the jute industry itself. If we do not recognise this trait of jute packaging, we will understand precious little of the area under discussion.
There is a vast network all through the country for gathering the used gunny bags for sorting them out as per quality and conditions, mending when needed, qualitywise are bundling and re-supply of the same for several needs. Hence, thrown out or discarded jute bags are never to be found in the country where billions of jute bags are in continuous use and reuse and that means repetitive buying ad selling after each use. This fact has to be seized in our mind which will tell us that this is Rs 5,000 crore jute industry's turnover based economic activity in India is worth many times more. This will also inform us that there are minimum 2 million people are working to gather the used gunny bags against exchange of money and getting them re-supplied for the reuse cycle. The re-use cycle which is well ordered in the small sector and spread all through the country also makes the jute bags considerably more inexpensive than any other medium of packaging, even without considering the huge social cost of using synthetic bags with regards ecology and environment.
The government is trying its best to cancel out its own compulsory 100 per cent jute packaging of sugar and food grains legislation (the jute packaging materials (compulsory use in packing commodities) Act 1987), which was approved by both houses of Parliament unanimously to give widespread security and assistance to the jute sector. The central government must invert its policy of unlawfully weakening the provisions of the said 1987 Act for the sake of nation. All the state governments of the states covering eastern India need to enforce their act together to compel the Union government to set right their antinational strategy in terms of the very big jute sector. Once this is done, the jute industry will not only stay alive but also become strongly progress oriented.
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