Environmental concern helps West Bengal's jute industry thrive

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Kolkata, April 9 (ANI): World environmental concerns have come as a bonus for the ailing jute industry in West Bengal.

The eco-friendly 'golden fibre' is finally finding its place in the limelight with the growing popularity of diversified jute goods.

Earlier, jute was just associated with the ugly sacks used for packaging, mainly in the sugar and cement industries. But with diversification into designer bags, wall-hangings, jute paintings, shoes, textiles even jewelry now, jute is rapidly emerging as a reusable alternative for the environment conscious citizens.

With several states banning use of polythene bags as a measure to protect the environment, jute has got a new lease of life in the carrier segment alone in the form of clutch bags, party bags, laundry bags, rucksacks, gunny bags, totes, shopping bags and wine bags.

Besides, a variety of exquisitely designed, painstakingly created handicraft and utility items are on display at various shops selling jute goods. Upscale stores like FabIndia and Anokhi are also stocking jute items of various hues nowadays.

"The industry has bright prospects. Earlier, we used to export only sacks to the tune of Rs.800 - 900 crore annually but in the last five to 10 years, the export volume has risen to Rs 1200 crore. The export share of diversified products has risen from 18 to 36 per cent in the last five years", says Atri Bhattacharya, Secretary of the Jute Manufactures Development Corporation.

India is the world's largest jute producer, accounting for 2/3rds of the world's jute production. India exports to the US, Europe and Gulf countries.

India has launched the Jute Technology Mission and the next two years will be significant. If jute products are marketed ably at home and abroad, the Indian jute industry has the potential to double the current turnover of Rs. 5,000 crore, adds Bhattacharya, also the Executive Director, National Centre for Jute Diversification.

The bulk of the jute production in the country comes from West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Tripura.

Jute goods customers like Subhankar Chatterjee point out that the bio -degradable jute was the best alternative when polythene, plastic and other non-degradable products were choking the global environment.

Consciously buying jute goods is also a great way to support the workers and families involved in this indigenous industry, he adds.

The jute and allied industries have over 2.5 lakh workers and over four and half million people are involved in the jute trade in some manner or the other in India. India has been averaging a production of 1.6 million tones of per annum in the last five years with a domestic market of 1.4 million tonnes.

There was a time, when the jute industry thrived in West Bengal. Jute mills lined the banks of the river Hooghly, providing employment to thousands of people.

Militant Left trade unionism in the state ruined the industry. Of the 63 mills in the state, one closed down 11 years ago and another five years ago. The rest have been operational only intermittently, as per demand.

The operations are being carried out often at half or even one-fourth capacity. With growing awareness for environmental and interest in diversified jute goods, it may be hoped that the golden days of the 'golden fibre' would return soon. By Ajitha Menon (ANI)

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