Centre fears Mamata ire over jute bags import

Sacks in shortage, but govt frets over TMC opposition

The Congress which has been desperately trying to woo the Trinamool Congress (TMC) to support Pranab Mukherjee in the forthcoming  Presidential election is set to tussle with its troublesome ally again, this time over jute sacks.

With the country facing shortage of jute bags to store rice in the coming procurement season, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre is in a piquant situation whether to import from neighbouring Bangladesh or use plastic sacking to meet the shortage. The Centre is wary of taking any decision on this issue as the West Bengal government has already raised a red flag for import of jute bags or using plastic bags.

While anticipating problems, Food and Consumer Affairs Minister K V Thomas in his letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, requested them to address the issue at the earliest.

According to Thomas, in the coming rice procurement season beginning from October, there will be shortage of around 3.5 lakh bales of gunny bags. As the West Bengal jute industries are unable to produce that much the government has two options either to import from Bangladesh or use high density polythene bag.

However, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) which procures rice from farmers, prefers jute to plastic bags as labourers finds it is easy to use hooks while loading and unloading.

Last November, the FCI was forced to buy plastic in Madhya Pradesh for storing wheat which was opposed by the West Bengal government.

Help from Bangladesh

Bangladesh, which is the only other country with a major jute industry, has offered to export jute bags to fill the shortfall. But Indian officials have turned down the offer as the jute law is meant to protect only Indian producers and farmers.

The Centre in the 1980s passed a law stipulating that 100 per cent of the annual wheat and rice crop must be packed in jute bags.

The move was meant to defend the jobs of 250,000 jute factory workers, and the five million Indian farmers who grow jute. But due to increasing demand of jute sacks, the ageing industry could not meet the demand.

Mamata who is becoming more hostile towards the UPA government after the selection of Mukherjee as the alliance’s Presidential candidate has already refused to back several pending proposals including allowing foreign direct investment in retail sector and pension bill.

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