AS Mehta: In the defence of paper - key industry in India

Like all other industries, the paper industry has also passed through a difficult time during the last year. Demand for writing and printing paper has been severely impacted due to continued closure of educational institutes and offices.

21 Jul 2021 | By PrintWeek Team

Mehta: The paper industry has gone up the sustainability curve

However, being alive to its responsibility as an essential services sector, the industry is making sincere efforts to restore the disrupted supply chains and provide supplies to all sectors.

The paper industry is a key segment of Indian manufacturing and one of the oldest industries. The estimated turnover of the industry is Rs 70,000-crore (domestic market size: Rs 80,000-crore) and its contribution to the exchequer is about Rs 5,000- crore. The industry provides direct employment to 5-lakh persons, and indirectly to some 1.5-million.

The economic importance of the industry is unparalleled. The industry supports three vital national objectives of education for all, greening of India and rural employment.

Universal literacy is unthinkable without paper. Over 1.2-million hectares of largely degraded land in the rural areas has been brought under pulpwood plantation by the industry bolstering the green cover, generating rural livelihoods, and supplementing farm incomes.

The paper industry has gone up the sustainability curve and has become far more technologically advanced over the last few years. Pioneering work has been carried out by the industry over the last three decades in producing tree saplings, which are disease and drought resistant and can be grown in a variety of agro-climatic conditions.

However, there are challenges, too. India is a fibre-deficient country – inadequate raw material availability domestically is a major constraint for the paper industry.

Import of paper into India at zero duty under the free trade agreements (FTAs) is adversely impacting the industry. The paper industry has taken significant leaps in the last few years in technological upgradation, process-optimisation and introduction of best practices. In the last five to seven years, an amount of over Rs 25,000-crores has been invested in new efficient capacities and induction of clean and green technologies. It managed to bring down its energy consumption by about 20% in the last five years. Integrated paper mills in India generate over 40% of the power they use by utilising the biomass from the pulping process.

Till a few years ago, the industry used to consume 200 cubic metres of water to produce a tonne of paper. Now, the integrated mills have reduced that to under 50 cubic metres. ‘Save paper, save environment’ – that phrase is a misnomer. In fact, few industries in India can match the sustainability that paper offers, despite the false campaigns by vested interests. Paper is fully biodegradable and recyclable and is produced from sources that are renewable and sustainable.

The industry is not only conserving the environment but also regenerating natural resources, unlike many industries. It recycles most of the wastepaper that is generated. The industry recycles agricultural waste which otherwise would have been burnt in the fields. The use of paper addresses the two most important global environment concerns of disposal of e-waste and single-use plastic. The paper industry has therefore struck a fine balance between growth and sustainability. Innovation is the new frontier in the paper industry. Modern life is made possible with versatile paper coming to our rescue in a variety of forms.

(Courtesy: IPMA, JK Paper and Business India)

AS Mehta is the president of Indian Paper Manufacturers Association, and president and director at JK Paper