The government has taken a hard line to ensure rice packaging with jute sacks in the face of traders’ continued non-compliance with the compulsory jute packaging law passed four years ago.
The Department of Jute, under the textiles and jute ministry, last week started a drive through mobile court to compel the millers and traders to use the environment-friendly jute sacks to pack rice for marketing domestically.
The move comes after the Supreme Court reinstated a government decision that asked rice millers and traders to use jute sacks compulsorily from January to pack the staple rice.
The Supreme Court issued the order after the High Court last month stayed the effectiveness of the government notification following a writ petition by some rice millers.
The government issued the notification on September last year, asking all rice millers and traders to clear their stock of plastic bags by December 31 last year.
However, private sector businesses remain non-compliant, citing reasons such as higher costs of jute sacks compared to poly-propylene or plastic bags and problems in branding.
Millers said the burden for compliance with the law will be passed on to the consumers in the form of higher rice prices.
Azam, though, termed this point as an excuse for non-compliance.
“They have been giving this excuse for a long time now. Let the general public voice this. If the people of Bangladesh say they are being affected by the law, then we will change it.”
He said increased domestic use of jute has now become vital to help save the jute sector. “It is a question of survival of jute growers and sustenance of our jute industry.”
The jute industry, which involves about 40 lakh farmers and 150,000 workers, has been suffering from an acute downturn in exports earnings owing to the Middle East crisis and a slump in demand in from Africa, Thailand and India.
Exports receipts fell 20 percent year-on-year to $824 million in fiscal 2013-14, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau.
The descent continued into the new fiscal year, with export earnings dropping 24 percent year-on-year to $61 million in the opening month of fiscal 2014-15.
Industry operators said three-fourths of the domestically-produced jute is exported in raw or processed forms in the absence of domestic demand.
The government in 2010 passed a law that made the packaging of certain percentage of food items and fertilisers mandatory in a bid to cushion the sector against the vagaries of global demand and cut the use of the environmentally harmful polypropylene bags.
Mohammed Kefayet Ullah, a director of the Department of Jute, said the department conducted six mobile courts in Dhaka, Jamalpur and Khulna to ensure compliance with the law. The courts also fined some rice millers, he said.