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The apex sugar industry body, the Indian Sugar Mills Association (Isma), has traded charges with its counterpart in the jute sector over the quality of bags for packing. While Isma says jute mills have supplied sub-standard bags for packing sugar, the Indian Jute Mills Association (Ijma) denies this.
The issue arose after the centre, under pressure from West Bengal chief minister Mamta Banerjee, mandated (in January) that only jute bags be used for packing agri commodities, including sugar. Isma challenged the decision through a petition in the Patna high court in March. A decision has not been issued and the next hearing is on July 25.
Isma says the jute bags available do not conform to Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) norms. While the BIS standard calls for a 650g bag, the average would be 400-450g. This means mills have to add an extra 200-250g of sugar to meet the gross weight requirement of a 50-kg bag. So, they lose a kg for every two quintals of sugar sold, implying a total loss of 125,000 tonnes for the 25 million tonnes of sugar produced annually, said Abinash Verma, secretary-general of Isma.
Also, he contends, jute bags have gaps of more than 1.5 cm, allowing heavy leakage of sugar and pilferage in transit. This also allows moisture ingress. The presence of batching oil, used for softening of jute during the manufacturing process, also hits the quality of sugar, beside being harmful to human health, said Verma.
Other bulk consumers such as manufacturers of beverages, confectionaries, biscuits and sweets, which consume around 60 per cent of India’s sugar output have complained about the quality of jute bags, said Verma. He urged the government to allow sugar packing in polypropylene (PP) and high density polyethylene (HDPE) bags.
But a senior official with BIS said the issue had not been raised with it. “No such case has come before the BIS, so far. In case of such a complaint, BIS would enquire only into issues related to IS-marked quality,” the official said.
Manish Poddar, chairman of the Ijma, rubbished Isma’s accusations, and said despite the government’s order, sugar mills were packing only 75 per cent of their output in jute bags. They must be forced to put the remaining 25 per cent in jute bag packing, too, he said.
Raw jute output has been stagnant at around 11 million bales annually (a bale is 170 kg) in the past five years. On the other hand, the output of foodgrain and sugar has risen substantially in this period, the former by 20 per cent and sugar by 35 per cent. The sugar industry says there is inadequate quantity of jute bags and mills are forced to use PP/HDPE bags for even levy sugar supplies, which are sometimes refused by state agencies.