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Dhaka Tribune

No silver lining for “golden fibre”

Update : 26 Apr 2013, 08:04 AM

The Mandatory Jute Packaging Act, which experts hoped would give the jute sector a well-deserved push forward, is yet to be implemented after over two and a half years of formulation, thanks to lengthy bureaucratic procedures.

The act was passed by parliament on October 12, 2010. However, it took the textiles and jute ministry almost two years to publish a gazette notification on it, making it effective from September 20, 2012.

The act makes it mandatory to package goods with bags made of at least 75% jute, which is biodegradable, instead of environmentally hazardous and non-biodegradable synthetic materials such as polythene and plastics.

If implemented, the act would facilitate the widespread use of jute bags and virtually halve the damage caused by the unsafe use of synthetic bags. As a result, local consumption of jute products would be several times higher, experts say.

The act also outlines punitive measures in case of infringement. Violators face a maximum of one year in jail, a fine of Tk50,000 or both, for using non-degradable synthetics to package commodities. The punishment would be double for repeat offenders.

A senior official of the textiles and jute ministry told the Dhaka Tribune that the act could not be implemented because of the “absence of necessary rules.”

The draft of the rules was sent to the law ministry for vetting, but it was later sent back for some corrections. "After making those corrections, we sent it again to them," he said. 

The draft, prepared by a seven-member committee headed by the joint secretary of the ministry, specified that maize, paddy, rice, wheat, sugar and fertilisers have to be packaged with jute bags.

Admitting failure in implementation of the act, textiles and jute minister Abdul Latif Siddique told this correspondent: "I will be happy if you write that I have failed to implement the act,” blaming a "vested quarter" for opposing its implementation.

However, he declined to elaborate on his allegation.

Ahsan Uddin Ahmed, an environmental expert and executive director of Centre for Global Changes, said that usage of non-degradable synthetic materials cause an environmental nuisance because they remain intact when dumped into water bodies.

"The Water Supply and Sewerage authorities spend millions to remove these bags from the underground sewerage pipelines," he said.

However, Ahsan cautioned against using sacks made of jute during the rainy season, for they can become infested with worms, and will likely affect the quality of food corps.

Kazi Anwarul Haque, vice president of the Bangladesh Plastic Goods Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BPGMEA), opposed the notion of environmentally friendly jute bags, and said that such bags can be potentially "unhygienic" when they come in touch with food grain.

He also argued that it is not true that plastic materials are detrimental to environment, since they are recyclable and can be used again.

"Jute is a high-value natural fibre, and should be used in a way that guarantees large financial returns, instead of making bags," he said.    

Synthetic bags were in high demand in the retail shops of the Mohammadpur Town Hall Market, where this correspondent visited recently. Retailers were using these bags to sell rice.

"We buy rice with sacks made of synthetics from the wholesale market at the city’s Babu Bazar," said Wahidul, a retail businessman. But he said they have no objection to using jute bags if these are made available.

Shohag, a jute producer from Gopalgonj, told the Dhaka Tribune over phone that farmers are not getting fair prices for jute. “We sold a maund [40kg] of jute at Tk2,850 last year whereas this year the same amount is being sold at Tk1,350.”

He said the price of jute is lower than what it takes to produce it, making it harder for farmers to earn enough to continue to be in the profession.

Mahfuzul Haque, chairman of the Bangladesh Jute Association, said if the mandatory jute packaging act can be implemented, it would address the problems of farmers as well as jute traders. Local consumption of jute will go up, leading to increased demand for Bangladeshi jute on the international market.

The price of jute will consequently be higher, he added.

According to Bangladesh Jute Mills Association (BJMA), a total of 7.8m bales of raw jute are produced in the country every year. Of these, 2.4m bales are exported and 4.4m bales go to mills for making jute products.

300,000 bales are used for rope and other purposes, and the remaining 700,000 bales are stored.

BJMA Secretary Abdul Barik Khan told the Dhaka Tribune that implementation of the jute packaging act would cause local consumption to rise as much as 70%, a dramatic increase from the existing 10%. It will also turn the price structure in favour of local jute producers, he said.



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