The raw fibres Jute and Cotton are treated as Essential Commodity in India. And the supply and export of these raw materials, as well as the sale of products made out of jute and cotton together form the strengthiest pillars of the Indian Economy. The livelihood of over 300,000 workers depends on this industry.
Now, these are the times of the Coronavirus Disease Lockdown. That seems as long an era.
The Jute & Cotton industry is not exempted from the lockdown as other essential goods suppliers, mainly food and medicine. Which seems like a fair decision since now is high time when food and medicine is indeed the most essential.
But the Agro-Food supplies heavily use Jute Bags for packaging. Which has been a shortfall, over 6.46 lakh plastic bales were used in lieu of jute bags, that’s a far cry from the blanket ban on Single-Use Plastic which was lauded a few months back.
Whatsoever, as factories and businesses have been closed throughout the lockdown phase, the CSR and Fair Trade representatives take to improvising their ways to self-sustain the workforce and the daily wagers, while Governments choose silence above all, against not only the pledges of exemption but to the overall the state of a major crisis.
Perhaps, this is not the high time for the Jute Bags Suppliers to worry about production or stock. Most suppliers would still have shelves full of attractive, artsy beach bags, shopping bags, promotional bags and the wide range that people are simply waiting to buy. Even though the ready consignments are still not dispatched, even though there has not been a new sale for nearly a month, most of us, still have a good stock of groceries in our pantries and refrigerators.
But the bigger concern on the table right now, is the majority of Daily Wage Earners are under the pressure, and outside of the media coverage.
Bengal is the fountainhead of the Jute Industry. The region alone, together with the villages that are now part of Bangladesh, supplies the largest amount of jute, that makes India the largest jute producer in the whole wide world. This is more of pride because, this natural fibre is rooted in a culture, in heritage and in history. Moreover, it is also one of the sturdiest exemplars of sustainable products that reserves a golden future for itself and all the people that are working for its development, as the importance of eco-friendly materials are increasingly having a stark impact on the masses.
But today is not a new day. Today is another day of Lockdown.
As of now, there are all of 59 Jute Mills operating within the Bengal landscape. Approximately, 40 Lakh individuals are economically connected to these Mills, with some 3lakh people that are directly connected as jute mill workers.
Typically, a Budli worker or daily labour is paid around Rs. 500 on a daily basis, plus perks for an 8-hour shift. The mode of payment is at hand cash.
Sometimes people live within a distance of 2-6 kilometres from their workplace, and the wages can be collected or sent across from the Mills and Factories.
But with the talks of lockdown extension and the prolonged silent treatment of Governments, it is becoming to look like the beginning of a really hard crisis. It is through levelheaded endurance and willingness to share that the Jute Industry can wade through these tough times. Ironically, Social Isolation may not save the day after all, for indifference is sometimes the bigger pandemic, that yet still don’t have a cure.
Many trade unions came forward with a more sounded appeal to the Central and State Governments to reach out to daily wage workers, where, as employers, they can’t reach. It is demanded that irrespective of what position, every worker should be compensated with the losses they endured during the Lockdown, any future extensions of it. It is predicted that once the Lockdowns are lifted, the Food Suppliers will resume with their usual demand of Jute Bags. Moreover, a heavy surge in demands is also expected from Foreign buyers. But with such uncertain a future, how long can the Governments maintain Social Distance from the Daily Wage Crisis of the greater population outside of the media coverage?