The government's intent to give a push to the ailing jute industry by making jute bags compulsory for rice packaging from January 1 appears to be lip service as of now, as the rule is yet to be applied in any form.
“Exports have plummeted and the domestic demand is sluggish too. It would have helped if the compulsory packaging act was enforced,” said Humayun Khaled, chairman of Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation, whose exports of jute products in the first seven months of fiscal 2013-14 stood at 5 lakh tonnes, down 58.33 percent year-on-year.
In a bid to cushion the export-dependent industry against the vagaries of international trade, the government in 2010 framed the mandatory jute packaging law, which was made official later in October 2013. All rice millers and traders were instructed to clear their stock of plastic bags by December 31.
But two months on, private sector businesses remain non-compliant—citing higher costs of jute sacks than poly-propylene or plastic bags—and the government is not cracking down on them either.
“What's the use of the law if it is not implemented even after four years? It is regretful that our next-door neighbour India enforced the law in 1987 but we in 2014 still cannot,” Khaled said.
Asked, Mohammed Kefayet Ullah, a director of the Department of Jute, said: “We could not utilise January and the preceding months for election and political turmoil to make the businesses aware of the law.”
“We have tried to use February. We have started contacting the divisional commissioners to ensure compliance of the law,” he said, adding that the government will embark on a motivational campaign in March.But from April, a hard line stance will be taken on enforcement of the jute packaging act.
“There is no alternative but to enforce the law to save the industry,” Abdul Barik Khan, secretary of Bangladesh Jute Mills Association, said quoting the group's chairman Muhammad Shams-uz Zoha as saying in a meeting held early last month.
The sector's downturn in fortunes, on which 150,000 factory workers and tens of thousands of farmers depend on for livelihood, started with the onset of crisis in Middle-East, a major region for the industry, and was later exacerbated by the depreciation of Indian rupee.
Export earnings from jute and jute goods stood at $466.17 million in the first seven months of fiscal 2013-14, down 21 percent year-on-year, according to Export Promotion Bureau. Some 20 jute mills have already suspended production, while the state-run BJMC is sitting on jute goods worth nearly Tk 700 crore and has dues of Tk 240 crore to jute suppliers.