Economists and labour leaders have called for a special allocation in the upcoming national budget to keep the fundamental jute and sugar industries afloat. These industries have been struggling to survive due to mismanagement and a lack of investment.
They demanded that the government maintain patronage in these two sectors to create market control and employment in order to sustain essential strategic food products despite the temporary losses.
The speakers placed their demands at a seminar, "The FY2022-23 budget, our proposals for starting and developing all jute and sugar mills that are closed to protect basic industries of the country", at the Nasrul Hamid Auditorium of Dhaka Reporters Unity on Saturday afternoon.
Professor Anu Muhammad of the economics department at Jahangirnagar University, Professor MM Akash of the economics department at Dhaka University and Professor Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan of the department of international relations at Dhaka University spoke at the programme, which was presided over by Shahidul Islam, convener of National Jute Mill Workers and Employees Unity Council.
Among others who spoke were Junaid Saki, chief coordinator of Gana Sanghati Andolan, Rajekuzzaman Ratan, assistant general secretary of BSD, Shuvrangshu Chakraborty, coordinator of Bangladesh Samyabadi Andolan and labour leaders from Khulna, Sirajganj and Chattogram.
Writer and researcher Maha Mirza presented an essay on jute mills, while Dhaka University teacher Moshahida Sultana read out an essay on sugar mills.
A seven-point demand by workers-farmers-students-people unity was placed at the seminar for the protection of jute mills and sugar mills.
Mismanagement, non-receipt of money for timely purchase of jute, old machinery, overcrowded administration, purchase of substandard jute, corruption, loss of working hours due to lack of jute, excesses by trade unions and the labour movement were among the main reasons behind losses in jute mills, the seminar was informed.
The demands of the workers' unity are to ensure accountability by downsizing administration, modernisation and operation of jute mills, a one-time allocation for jute mills in operation, compulsory use of jute products in all government offices, master plan to develop the jute industry and clearing of all due salaries.
According to their calculations, the jute and sugar mills will turn around if the government invests thousands of crores of taka in repairing and replacing old machinery even when it does not want to provide subsidies.
Accordingly, labour leaders noted that the two industries will turn around if the government invests about Tk1,200 crore in the setting up and replacement of machinery of jute mills and about Tk1,500 crore in the sugar industry without leaving the two fundamental industries to the private sector.
The government announced the closure of 25 jute mills in 2020 through a golden handshake farewell to 25,000 workers due to losses.
To emerge clear of losses, the government wants to leave the companies to the private sector. However, the workers have not yet received their arrears.
The government has also announced the closure of six state-owned sugar mills due to continuous losses. Earlier, the government also left the mills in the textile sector to the private sector.
Professor Anu Muhammad argued that leaving the jute sector in the hands of the private sector will not lead to the development of the industry.
"Although there is a possibility of making many products, private entrepreneurs will not go there without profit motives," said the noted economist.
"Jute has a lot of potentials. This product is environment-friendly, with which many products can be made. But the industry needs to be taken forward with state patronage. We have to keep the fundamental industry alive for our own benefit," he added. ***