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Raw jute crisis, manpower shortage compel 16 Bengal mills to shut down

Kolkata, May 21,2021 (PTI) A crisis in West Bengal''s jute sector is looming large as around 16 mills have been shut down recently due to a growing scarcity of raw material and shortage of labourers arising out of restrictions imposed by the state government to contain the spread of COVID-19, officials of an industry body said on Thursday.

Closure of these mills rendered around 50,000 workers jobless, they said.

"Of the 16 mills, five have been closed down in the last four days mainly due to raw material crisis. We have apprehension that another 10 units may announce the closure of operations in the next few days," an official of Indian Jute Mills'' Association told PTI.

Around 2.5 lakh labourers work at 60 odd jute mills in the state.

"Delay in payments of jute bags by the government has also aggravated the situation," another official of the millers'' body said.

Without a steady cash flow, mill owners may struggle to pay wages to their labourers, he said.

"The Centre and the state government must pay attention to resolve the crisis in the jute industry. Given the current situation surrounding Narada issue, we are not so optimistic of getting coordinated assistance from the Union government and the TMC dispensation," a former chairman of IJMA said.

Two senior ministers Firhad Hakim and Subrata Mukherjee, TMC MLA Madan Mitra and former party leader Sovan Chatterjee were arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connecting with the Narada sting tapes case.

Mills are also facing the problem of manpower shortage as the state government has allowed only 30 per cent workforce in each shift as part of several restrictions imposed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

The industry body has urged the government to relax the 30 per cent workforce norm.

Mills in Bengal are committed to supply 14 lakh bales of jute bags between June and November to several states for packaging of foodgrains. Wheat production during the current year has also gone up.

With the 30 per cent workforce per shift, the jute industry can''t meet the requirement of gunny bags, the official said, adding that the sector has a supply backlog of about two lakh bales.

Mill owners are also facing a challenge relating to the movement of vehicles carrying jute bags, amid stricter lockdown norms imposed in the state, he added.