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Time to upgrade jute industry technologically 



  Time to upgrade jute industry technologically 

On the face of it, it is an industry that accounts for a turnover of Rs 6,500 crore annually. More importantly, it provides direct employment to two-and-a-half lakh workers in the organised sector, and to another one lakh in the unorganised sector. In addition, it provides gainful engagement to over four million farmers. That, for you, is the jute industry that, in the decades gone by, was among India’s highest export earners.
    Of the 77 jute mills, comprising the industry in the mills sector, 60 are located in West Bengal while the others are scattered across Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, Orissa, Tripura and Chhattisgarh. 
    Today, the industry is faced with problems one too many. It has to face competition from the synthetics lobby, the machinery installed in the jute mills are old and outdated, production processes are inefficient and demand policies that are announced by the Government are announced year-on-year. Says Mr Sanjay Kajaria, Chairman of the Indian Jute Mills Association: “The core issue is that the jute industry is dependent on government policies for demand for its products. 
    If the policy is not constant, there is bound to be a demand-supply mismatch. There has been a lot of capacity addition in the industry in the last 3-4 years. While the installed production capacity is 20 lakh tonnes per annum, the annual production is barely 16-16 ˝ lakh tonnes. The Mandatory Packaging Order is reviewed every year by the executive, the political establishment and the judiciary. We at IJMA feel that, if we can have a demand policy for 10 years instead of it being reviewed every year, the industry can look at the long term and invest in upgradation and modernisation schemes.” 
    According to Mr Kajaria, authorities must ensure that the Jute Packaging Material (Compulsory use in Packaging Commodities) Act, 1987 is implemented in letter and spirit. State agencies should also not be permitted to procure and use second-hand jute bags. Also cases of violations of the Act that have been pending must be wrapped up and the defaulters penalised. 
     Mr Binod Kispotta, Jute Commissioner says, “The jute industry must invest in technology upgradation with a view to improving production and efficiency. A case in point is the cotton industry, which has invested in technology upgradation programmes. With increased awareness, consumer preference will shift in favour of environment-friendly and biodegradable products. The jute industry has to invest in modernisation programmes, improve technologies and efficiencies and be ready for what lies ahead in terms of competition”. 
    While the industry continues to grapple with problems faced by it, the Jute Manufactures Development Council (JMDC), which is generally regarded as the export promotion council of the jute industry, has taken proactive steps to promote the use of jute geo textiles across the country.
     JMDC has initiated discussions with 10 States to promote the use of jute geo textiles. These States include Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Presentations have been by JMDC in these States showcasing the potential and application of jute geo textiles in road construction, embankment protection, etc.
    The initial response of the State Governments to jute geo textiles has been “very encouraging”, according to informed sources. JMDC is hopeful that some of these States will initiate pilot projects within the current fiscal. “To begin with, this is bound to increase awareness of the varied applications of jute geo textiles. Once it is incorporated in the States’ PWD schedules, the demand that is generated is bound to be huge,” the sources said.
    For example, in road embankments, one would require 4,000 running metres of jute geo textiles for seven feet wide, one-km-long road. “It is quite possible that pilot projects that are undertaken by these States will require more than a million running metres of jute geo textiles. They are cheaper, durable and environment-friendly,” the sources said. According to them, if the project takes off successfully, it will have a cascading effect on the industry. The mills sector would have to augment production and the acreage under jute cultivation would have to go up. For now, however, the focus was on getting these States to kick-start pilot projects in jute geo textile applications as soon as possible.
     Efforts are also on to increase the industry’s exports, which, in absolute terms, has been pegged at Rs 1,100-1,200 crore annually. The industry has been demanding a restoration of the External Market Assistance Scheme, which was last in vogue till March 31, 2007. Official sources said extension of the same is “under consideration”.
 Source: Business Line, Chennai: October 10, 2007)



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