An industry barely hanging by a thread

The disaster in West Bengal’s jute business is getting exacerbated, with a number of mills suspending operations this yr. Shiv Sahay Singh visits mills alongside each banks of the Hooghly to grasp the rising despair of employees, house owners and farmers

The disaster in West Bengal’s jute business is getting exacerbated, with a number of mills suspending operations this yr.  Shiv Sahay Singh visits mills alongside each banks of the Hooghly to grasp the rising despair of employees, house owners and farmers

On Eid, after a quick spell of rain, the group that had assembled outdoors the Ishaque Sardar Masjid in Kankinara Nayabazar space within the morning hurriedly dispersed. After two years of pandemic-induced restrictions, this Eid was anticipated to be celebrated with pomp. However although individuals hugged and greeted one another in entrance of the picturesque mosque after the morning prayers, there was no palpable pleasure accompanying festivities.

“Livelihood is the largest supply of happiness,” mentioned Wahid Kamal, rolling up the sleeves of his fraying gray shirt and taking a look at his six-year-old son Atif, who was carrying a brand new pink shirt. Wahid and Mohammad Guddu, each employees on the Reliance Jute Mill at Bhatpara in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district, defined how tough the holy month of Ramzan had been this yr after the mill closed, leaving employees with no earnings.

Contained in the jute mill quarters, the temper was even much less celebratory. Ejaz Afjal mentioned he lent some cash to his neighbour, a father of three, who, like Ejaz, has been out of labor for the previous few months. It was on the morning of January 27, 2022 that Wahid, Mohammad, Ejaz and almost 5,000 employees went to Reliance Jute Mill to discover a discover hanging on the gate asserting non permanent suspension of labor.

The disaster

The big iron gates on the entrance of the century-old jute mills on each banks of the river Hooghly are forbidding. They have a tendency to mirror the temper of the world: throughout elections, posters of competing political events are affixed to those gates; each autumn, banners and commercials on Durga Puja adorn them; throughout basic strikes, messages from commerce unions cowl them; and sometimes, small notices on white paper, asserting suspension of labor, are caught on them. The individuals of this area, which has witnessed horrible riots and intense political battles in the course of the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 Meeting polls, concern these white notices probably the most.

Mill employees noticed the discover ready for them on January 1, 2022 on the massive yellow painted gate of the Gondolpara Jute Mill. This sprawling mill is positioned close to Chandannagar, on the western financial institution of the river, not removed from the erstwhile French settlement. On March 31, the gate of the mill bore a moderately uncommon discover, which mentioned that the “majdoor strains will get two extra hours of electrical energy” — a small reduction for these dwelling there. Ever because the mill closed, energy provide on the quarters had been irregular, totalling 12-14 hours a day.

With out energy on a sizzling day, a younger couple, Kanai Shaw and Renu Shaw, sat inside their small cubicle-like quarters. Renu rocked her five-month-old son, mendacity on the hammock, to sleep, whereas her four-year-old daughter ate a frugal lunch. An emaciated Renu mentioned her husband had been out of labor for the previous few months. The household was hungry and helpless.

The gates of of the Reliance Jute Mill, which downed its shutters on January 27, 2022. About 5,000 workers have lost work because of temporary suspension of work at the mill.

The gates of of the Reliance Jute Mill, which downed its shutters on January 27, 2022. About 5,000 employees have misplaced work due to non permanent suspension of labor on the mill.
| Picture Credit score: DEBASISH BHADURI

Although suspension of labor isn’t any new phenomenon, latest months have been particularly tough. Between November 2021 and April 2022, no less than 12 mills alongside each the banks of the river downed their shutters, placing 60,000 employees out of jobs in a single fell swoop. The employees of Reliance Jute Mill on the japanese financial institution and Gondolpara Jute Mill on the western financial institution all misplaced their jobs when this choice was taken.

In response to the Indian Jute Mills Affiliation (IJMA), there are about 93 jute mills in India, of which 70 are in West Bengal. Of the 70, 54 are positioned within the three districts of North 24 Parganas (25), Howrah (15) and Hooghly (14). The IJMA, which dates again to 1884, estimates the variety of employees at 3.5 lakh. It says about 40 lakh farmers are related to the manufacturing and commerce of the golden fibre. About 80% of the completed product – or B. Twill jute bag — is purchased by the federal government for packaging meals grains and agriculture produce like sugar.

In response to business specialists, the latest disaster started final September, when the Workplace of the Jute Commissioner, which comes underneath the Ministry of Textiles, fastened the utmost value of uncooked jute at ₹6,500 per quintal. This choice to cap the value at ₹6,500 led to a fall in procurement (as uncooked jute sells out there at a value increased than ₹6,500 per quintal) and mills determined to droop work. A mill proprietor and a outstanding individual within the West Bengal jute business defined the losses mill house owners are incurring. At his Kolkata workplace, he did a fast back-of-the-envelope calculation and pegged it at ₹12 lakh a day. “The capability of my mill is 100 tonnes a day,” he mentioned. “The market value of uncooked jute has climbed to ₹7,200 per quintal which is ₹700 greater than the ₹6,500 cap by the federal government. For purchasing 100 quintals, I’ve to spend ₹7 lakh extra.”

One other problem which the jute mill managements of the State stress on is non-implementation of the Tariff Fee’s report for truthful value of B. Twill jute baggage, which has led to a lack of ₹1,500 crore to the business, in line with jute mill house owners. Since September 2016, the jute business is being reimbursed for the jute baggage on a provisional non permanent value. In March 2021, the Tariff Fee submitted its closing report; it’s nonetheless to be applied. “Other than spending ₹7 lakh extra, we’re dropping ₹5 lakh as a result of the Tariff Fee’s report on B. Twill jute baggage has not been applied. How can I hold the mill open if I’ve to shell out ₹12 lakh a day,” the mill proprietor requested.

Whereas there have been no reviews within the public area concerning the steps taken in opposition to hoarders, the Jute Commissioner, Moloy Chandan Chakraborty, mentioned in an announcement that farmers usually eliminate their inventory of uncooked jute by October/November yearly. “Thus, there may be hardly any uncooked jute left with the farmers,” the assertion mentioned. “At current no jute of the present season is being held by farmers and jute lies with middlemen/merchants and even with mills in their very own identify or within the identify of third events at varied locations. Leisure within the higher value cap will solely accrue illegitimate good points by these events and no profit will accrue to the farmers.”

In an order on Might 11, the Calcutta Excessive Courtroom directed the Jute Commissioner to “evaluate and re-fix the speed” of uncooked jute if the notified price can’t be adhered to. Justice Amrita Sinha’s 16-page order defined the supply-related bottlenecks. It identified that since jute mills are legally sure to produce jute baggage to the federal government for which they’re reimbursed on the notified price, they don’t have any different various however to promote the completed merchandise at a loss. With sustained losses, the mills are destined to shut down and the already dying business will perish very quickly.

“Alternatively, if the notified price is elevated, the federal government could not comply with pay extra for the jute baggage and the thought of switching over to cheaper alternate options could also be a viable choice. If that be so, then the jute mills, due to exorbitant charges, could not discover any takers of their merchandise. Massive scale joblessness and financial disaster is sure to observe,” the order mentioned.

Of the various points raised by the court docket, one was why the value of uncooked jute was hiked regardless of a bumper progress. “There should be some loopholes that are required to be plugged. However who will bell the cat is presumably the following related query,” Justice Sinha mentioned.

On the mill flooring

Manufacturing is an elaborate train. Hastings Jute Mill, one of many oldest jute mills within the nation, was as soon as the weekend retreat of the primary Governor Basic of Bengal, Warren Hastings. The mill is positioned at Rishra, in Hooghly district, and was launched by the Birkmyre Brothers in 1875, with 230 looms. It is among the mills that’s nonetheless open and sees hectic exercise. Bales of jute are first handled with oil after which changed into fibre via mechanised looms. The set-up is like an elaborate automotive meeting unit. By the point the fibres are changed into threads, they’ve handed over a dozen machines. Daylight seeps via the skylight and 1000’s of individuals on the manufacturing facility flooring do back-breaking work on previous looms. After fibres are changed into threads, they’re placed on a spool and woven into massive bales of jute material to be reduce and stitched into jute baggage. On the finish of the meeting line, there’s a small set-up the place jute imported from Bangladesh is processed. The fibre from Bangladesh seems to be, and can be thought of, superior to Indian jute.

Production inside the Hastings Jute Mill. This is one of the oldest mills in the State and about 5,000 workers work here.  The set-up is like an elaborate car assembly unit.

Manufacturing contained in the Hastings Jute Mill. This is among the oldest mills within the State and about 5,000 employees work right here.  The set-up is like an elaborate automotive meeting unit.
| Picture Credit score: DEBASISH BHADURI

On Might 5, the IJMA issued an announcement that the Authorities of India (GoI) is contemplating persevering with anti-dumping duties in opposition to imports of jute merchandise from Bangladesh. “Regardless of the present anti-dumping responsibility, jute exports from Bangladesh to India, as per Authorities of Bangladesh statistics, have been growing. IJMA has contended that the business would have been fully wiped off by now, had the GoI not imposed an anti-dumping responsibility,” the assertion mentioned. The business physique said that Bangladesh gives money subsidies for jute manufacturing.

In response to a report of the Fee for Agricultural Prices and Costs (CACP), 2022-2023, India’s jute manufacturing has been declining over the last decade. The principle cause for that is the lower in acreage, which is generally as a result of cultivation of crops resembling paddy, maize, groundnut and sesame. The provision of varied sorts of artificial substitutes can be lowering the demand for jute. In response to the CACP, whereas the common space yearly underneath jute cultivation was 8.2 lakh hectares from 2000-01 to 2009-10, it dropped to 7.3 lakh hectares from 2010-11 to 2019-20. In 2021-22 it was 6.3 lakh hectares. Nevertheless, jute manufacturing has elevated this yr in comparison with the earlier yr.

Within the farmlands

About 50 km from the historic Hastings Jute Mill, at Astara villa in West Bengal’s Tarakeshwar block, farmers expressed concern about excessive local weather circumstances. Ganesh Khanra and Tapan Kumar Khanra, who used to domesticate six bighas (one acre is 1.6 bigha) of jute about 5 years in the past, now domesticate 4.

Production inside Hastings Jute Mill where bales of jute are first treated with oil and then turned into fibre through mechanised looms.

Manufacturing inside Hastings Jute Mill the place bales of jute are first handled with oil after which changed into fibre via mechanised looms.
| Picture Credit score: DEBASISH BHADURI

Ganesh, Tapan and different farmers claimed that each bigha of jute cultivation prices ₹16,000 to ₹18,000 and the yield is about 4 tonnes per bigha. Primarily based on the suggestions of the CACP, the minimal help value of jute for 2022-23 has been fastened at ₹4,750 per quintal. If one farmer produces 4 quintals of jute per bigha and sells it on the MSP, he barely breaks even.

The jute crop is sown in early April and harvested in July. The crop is about 6-7 ft excessive on the time of harvest. However as tedious because the cultivation of the golden fibre is the method of extracting the fibre from the harvest. The jute crop is left to rot in water our bodies for nearly 15 days. Each jute farmer within the village has a small water physique. With the intention to extract the jute, an individual has to face in waist-deep water in these ditches within the stench and pull out the fibres. The agricultural labourers who do the arduous work usually are not from Hooghly; they arrive from Gosaba and different inside areas of the Sundarbans. Their every day wage is ₹400-500, a considerable expense for farmers. On this picturesque village which was recognized for high quality, jute farmers are slowly switching to different crops like groundnut and sesame.

No calls for or protests

The difficulty has additionally turned political. Within the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, voters of Barrackpore on the japanese financial institution and Hooghly on the western financial institution voted for the Bharatiya Janata Occasion (BJP) and despatched two MPs to Parliament. The area has migrant employees from Bihar and japanese Uttar Pradesh who’ve labored within the mills for two-three generations.

By 2021, the voters as soon as once more turned to the Trinamool Congress. With mills closing and the insurance policies of the Centre being largely blamed for the disaster, Barrackpore BJP MP Arjun Singh began criticising the Jute Commissioner. The change within the social gathering’s fortunes in Barrackpore created ripples not solely regionally, however in your complete BJP institution. The State BJP vice-president, who vowed to guard the pursuits of jute employees and farmers, was summoned to Delhi and a gathering was organized with Union Textile Minister Piyush Goyal. The event has additionally sparked hypothesis on whether or not Singh is utilizing the disaster to heat as much as the Trinamool Congress, the social gathering he left in 2019 to hitch the BJP.

Curiously, there have hardly been any protests by commerce unions in a State that has seen militant commerce unionism up to now. There have been no calls for that the mills open, nor have there been strikes. An administrator of a century-old jute mill in Hooghly mentioned that there is no such thing as a commerce union left: “The older leaders are previous their prime and a brand new management has not come up. This is a bonus as there is no such thing as a interference in operating the mills, but in addition poses issues as there is no such thing as a one to take the problems referring to the mills to the individuals.”

West Bengal Labour Minister Becharam Manna publicly praised the labourers of the jute business. “They don’t strike though they’re struggling,” he mentioned. The final incident of commerce union-related violence within the State was reported within the Hooghly North Brook Jute Mill in July 2014 when employees killed the CEO over a dispute of wage cuts and Provident Fund (PF) cuts.

Dashed hopes?

As he stood just a few metres away from the Weaverly Jute Mill, Rajkumar Yadav, one of many representatives of a nationwide commerce union, mentioned he had excessive hopes from the tripartite assembly held of Central and State officers and stakeholders of the jute business on Might 9. A layer of mud on the mill gates made it tough to learn the notices pasted on it. The mill closed in November 2020. Yadav mentioned the times of commerce unionism had been over. He claimed that a number of retired workers had not received their PF dues as a result of the administration didn’t deposit its share. “Tons of of employees in every mill haven’t received their PF. However you’ll not see even a handful of complaints on the workplace of the Labour Commissioner,” he mentioned. In nearly all of the mills, the employees and retired workers have no idea who to strategy if their PF is denied. “Generally they don’t need to vacate the quarters,” the union chief mentioned. The closed jute mills are additionally witnessing reverse migration, with employees from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh going again to their properties after the mills closed.

Each closed jute mill is a novel story of despair. Gauripur Jute Mill has been closed since 1997. The employees do not forget that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had visited the world in 2010 and given assurances to the employees. Hanuman Jute Mill in Howrah closed in December 2021, New Central Jute Mill closed in 2015 in Bidge Bidge (South 24 Parganas) and Kolkata Jute Mill in January 2021 within the metropolis.

The workers quarters of the Reliance Jute Mill on the morning of Eid-ul-Fitr. The mill downed its shutters on January 27, 2022.

The employees quarters of the Reliance Jute Mill on the morning of Eid-ul-Fitr. The mill downed its shutters on January 27, 2022.
| Picture Credit score: DEBASISH BHADURI

Even the jute mills which are open hardly current an image of hope. Not removed from Reliance Jute Mill is Nadia Jute Mills which, in line with the employees, is “operational by some means”. The mill employees’ quarters, which lengthen until the financial institution of the river, are in a dilapidated state. Final October, the roof of the employees’ quarters got here crashing down and 5 individuals needed to be rescued by firefighters. Arjun Majhi, a mill employee, mentioned his cow died within the incident. “We have no idea who owns and runs the mill. Who will we ask for repairs,” Arjun requested. The roofs of the quarters are hanging at a number of locations, the pillars have tilted, and one water faucet that was meant for over 20 households has dried up. The one object that stands as a reminder of the current is a big cut-out of Lord Ram along with his bow and images of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee wishing individuals on Ram Navami. Every thing else, together with the destiny of the employees and the business they belong to, seems to be hanging by a thread.

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