The wheat has to be saved, so joust over jute.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee today assured Opposition leaders he had asked Bengal to increase production of jute bags after shortage of facilities to store this year’s bumper wheat crop rocked the Lok Sabha.
Mukherjee said he had spoken to Bengal industries minister Partha Chatterjee and urged him to ensure uninterrupted production to ensure that the supply of jute sacks increased by 25,000 from the current 2.5 lakh per month.
Bengal is the largest producer of jute in the country.
“We have asked them to produce more and they are actually producing 25,000 additional bags,” Mukherjee said, but couldn’t resist a dig at trade unions. “I hope there will be no strike in between and (they) will not suspend production. Sometimes they put pressure as this is the procurement season,” he added.
CPI MP and trade union leader Gurudas Dasgupta said unions had given an assurance they wouldn’t go on strike.
Mukherjee accepted the Opposition demand to hold talks with all parties to find a solution to the problem of shortage of jute bags and storage and assured the House that plans were being worked out to save the harvested wheat crop ahead of the monsoon.
He said two factors — Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh procuring more grain than expected because of increased yield — had led to the storage crunch.
“In November, the Madhya Pradesh government projected their procurement would be 65 lakh tonnes, but their actual procurement has been more than 85 lakh tonnes…. So the requirement of jute bags has increased substantially,” he said.
The minister said jute bags could be replaced with plastic bags as a temporary measure but added that plastic was not biodegradable.
Earlier, Opposition leaders had slammed the government for what they called its failure to come to the rescue of farmers. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who raised the issue, said people were dying of hunger while grains were rotting. The Janata Dal (United)’s Sharad Yadav said the government was more interested in providing concessions to industrialists.
A verbal duel started when Trinamul members accused the CPM of destroying the jute industry during their three-decade rule in Bengal. CPM MP Basudeb Acharia blamed the plastic lobby for the scarcity of jute bags.
Trinamul’s Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar rose to caution the government against importing jute bags and demanded that the Centre support the jute industry of Bengal. Her suggestion to save wheat from rotting ahead of the monsoon, however, drew laughter.
Kakoli suggested that the government procure wheat immediately and get it converted into flour, saying flour does not rot for 8-10 years. Amid laughter, some MPs pointed out that it was wheat that lasted longer.
Subhash Bhardwaj, a senior scientist at the Directorate for Wheat Research station in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, said wheat could be stored for more than two years if properly packed, while flour typically lasted five or six months, even in air-tight and moisture-free packs.
“Wheat is much longer-lasting because the grain is encased in the hard seed coat,” he said. “Flour, on the other hand, is exposed and thus vulnerable to faster action by the environment.”