To say that the jute sector is in trouble would be the height of euphemism. It is actually in a shambles and has been an ailing sector for decades. Yet we don’t understand why the government-owned jute mills should be incurring such huge losses and not be able to pay their workers for months resulting in inconceivable misery and despair. Despite its huge prospects and in spite of supplying 95 percent of worldwide demand for jute yarn, our jute mills are running at a loss.
The government, moreover, has injected Tk 7,000 crore over the last decade yet the jute mills are still plagued by poor management and bad planning. So where is the much-needed reform in the jute sector? Why have we not diversified to meet global demand? What kind of research and development have we invested in to make that happen?
The sheer neglect of this valuable sector has now resulted in the present crisis where thousands of jute mill workers have not been paid for six to 12 weeks and are agitating on the streets. Now Bangladesh Jute Mill Corporation (BJMC) has asked the government for Tk 340 crore to clear arrear wages until June of its over 32,000 workers. BJMC has sought another Tk 1,600 crore to implement the 2015 wage scale for its workers which is one of the demands of the agitating workers. The question is how will BJMC continue to pay its workers if the mills continue to run at a loss?
It is a mystery why this sector has not been revitalised years ago when the first signs of it sliding were clearly visible. Now it is incumbent upon the government to try to save this industry, not by endlessly injecting money without any demand of accountability but by identifying the bottlenecks in the industry and taking necessary action. This includes making the management efficient and free of corruption, updating the machinery in the mills and investing in research and development of jute products to cater to the global market. In all this, workers should be treated humanely and be paid their dues before Eid. They should not suffer because of the incompetence and irregularities of the management.