Jute, once fondly called the "Golden Fibre" is losing its glaze in Bangladesh, one of the world's five countries producing the reed-like plant that used to be our country's top export for decades.
Now, as demand for jute globally has decreased in competition with cheaper and more durable synthetics, Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) says it is still trying to save the business of jute from complete extinction.
But it probably cannot do much toward that end as the BJMC has itself been burdened with excess manpower and lack of proper planning, management and monitoring. As such, the corporation representing 26 jute mills in the public and private sectors is incurring huge losses every year.
Maj Gen (Retd) Humayun Khaled, Chairman of the BJMC, told the Daily Observer, "Government's cooperation is needed to keep alive the sector having about 67,000 employees, officers and other staff members. They are the bread earners for over 400,000 dependents."
"The sector is now a burden on the economy. Businessmen are not willing to sell jute on credit to the BJMC as they have no confidence in the organization," he said.
The jute sector lost around Tk 776 crore in the last three years. Most of the money was spent on paying salary to the more-than-necessary manpower, BJMC officials said. They said the corporation incurred a record loss of Tk 450 crore in the 2014-15 fiscal year.
They said BJMC has some 35,000 employees on regular payroll, but 22,520 of them are workless. Moreover, most members of BJMC managerial team have no skills or proper training in jute farming, production and trade.
The BJMC set up 154 buying centres at a cost of Tk 25 lakh each across the country to buy jute directly from the farmers. But in this high season of harvesting jute they often cannot buy it for "lack of fund." BJMC sources said.
But some people in the corporation allege that jute is not purchased as per target volume, despite having fund, for no reason ever explained. However, they blame it partly on lack of monitoring (of the centres) by higher officials and partly on "mischievous" designs, of unscrupulous purchasers.
The government fixed target to buy 25,89,000 quintals of raw jute for this year but only 2,807 quintals have been bought so far.
The government is reluctant to give them more money after it has taken over the liabilities of the BJMC. The Corporation must find its own resources to buy raw jute in the way the private sector jute mills do.
In the economic survey of 2013, the loss of the BJMC for the year 2012-13 was estimated at Tk 3.80 billion, the highest among the state-owned enterprises. The mills are running with old machineries for which the productivity is low.
The government formed a Jute Commission headed by economist Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman in 2010 to restructure the jute sector. The Commission submitted its report in 2011. The government formulated jute policy on the basis of the recommendation of the commission but it is yet to be implemented.
State Minister for Textile and Jute Mirza Azam said, "Government has already formulated a ten-year plan to make the sector profitable. We have plans to modernise the jute mills and collect funds from selling unused land of the mills."
If the plans are implemented, hopefully the crisis in the jute sector will be removed, he added.