Delhi: Beedi is Sawdeshi, organic, no report claimed yet that it causes cancer but the implementation of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) amendments will further increase the grave unemployment situation in India, so there is a separate law needed for the Beedi industry. These were the views of the dignitaries present at the launch of the book on women beedi rollers.
Probably it was the first time that a cross-section of people met at national capital not only to launch a book on India’s women beedi workers—Study on Lack of Alternate Employment for Women Beedi Rollers but also to discuss the future of the Beedi industry since implementation of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) amendments will unemployed millions of beedi workers.
The evening which was dedicated to women beedi rollers was attended by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders including Minister of State for Labour & Employment Rameswar Teli, Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Modi, Trinamool Congress’ Saugata Roy and Dola Sen, Nationalist Congress Party’s leader and ex-minister Praful Patel, trade union leaders, activists and journalists. There were 25 Members of Parliament present on the occasion. And the discussion was moderated by senior journalist Priya Sehgal. But there were two other special guests too– one was Cuban Ambassador Simancas Marin and another were several women beedi workers.
Beedi workers are the most marginalised people
One of the authors, Vibha Vasuki stated in detail about her research and mentioned that though Covid constraints could not permit her to study more workers’ lives the book touched all the aspects comprehensively.
Gives employment at remote areas of India
Former union minister and NCP leader Praful Patel highlighted the Beedi industry and its importance and also mentioned that his family was associated with the Beedi industry. “Beedi industry gives employment to people in remote and far-flung areas where there is no other source of work. It has more than 50 per cent labour component and money goes directly to the hands of people. Such industry needs governments support and neglect,” said Patel.
Why 27 per cent GST on a Swadeshi product?
Ashwani Mahajan, national co-convenor, Swadeshi Jagran Manch, who wrote forward in the book, talked straightforwardly. “Earlier there was no tax on beedi, neither excise duty nor sales tax applied on it. They reasoned that because it gives huge employment. It gets made in nine states and goes to the entire country, so beedi, sugar and textile used to be exempted. When GST was being implemented, he had thought either there will be no GST on beedis or it will be 5 per cent But highest GST has been charged on it,” rued Mahajan.
WHO report is itself questionable
All India organizing secretary of Bharatiya Majdoor Sangh, B Surendran The World Health Organization (WHO), which reported that 12 lakhs people die every year from Tobacco in India, on whose basis COTPA is being amended, is itself questionable and we have asked in our court petition that let the data of every hospital, every block should be submitted by WHO then we will support it. He also mentioned that Beedi is organic and least nicotine gets used.
Cuba Cigar is the premium Cigar in the world
The Cuban Ambassador Marin who came to speak with a Cigar at his hand highlighted the Cigar industry in Cuba. He also said that there is similarity between the Beedi and Cigar industry as both have large numbers of women workers, besides being indigenous. He also mentioned that Cigar industry people had participated in the country’s independence movement.
There is a need to lobby for the Beedi industry
Senior BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Modi while saying that it is a complicated matter pointed out that no government would like to do something which will unemployed lakhs of people. “I have been associated with GST implementation too. And many people from the Cigarette and other tobacco industry people met us with their grievances but I never met anybody from the Beedi industry. It needs a lobby. The lobby has a negative image in India, but in the United States, it is systemised.”
States should be consulted
MP and TMC trade union leader Dola Sen requested the union minister that for the welfare of the Beedi industry and its workers, states should be consulted by the center. During her speech, she gave a slogan, save the industry and save the workers.
Why an indigenous product, Beedi, not be promoted like a Cigar?
The book launch event began with the opening speech by author and journalist Rasheed Kidwai, who pointed out that it is not just a book release function but about the issue of the livelihood and welfare of 30 million people that to women, which and why a country like Cuba can showcase it cigar at a global platform. “Cigar brings fame, fortune and money to Cuba, but here we have a very indigenous thing which contributes 25 billion rupees to GDP, which is a very staggering amount, but getting step-motherly treatment.”
After listening to all the speakers patiently, MoS Rameswar Tuli who himself claimed to be a labour said, “I know that no such meeting on beedi workers like this has taken place before. I have also learnt a lot after coming here. I will sure talk about it with our senior minister.”
On the occasion, Mysore Beedi Mazdoor Association issued a press communiqué which said that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, proposes to amend COTPA 2003. The Ministry has put a draft of the said Bill on their website for comments and views.
Most of the proposed amendments are directly going to affect the livelihood of 2.3 crore workers currently employed in the Beedi Industry. They have no alternative employment. Employing crores of workers overnight is highly improbable, considering the present rate of unemployment.
It is critical to segregate beedis from Cigarettes and Chewing Tobacco and to reformulate separate Rules for beedies under COTPA 2003 while finalizing the proposed amendments and saving this indigenous, high employment generating Swadeshi industry. In the interest of the livelihood of 85 Lakh Beedi Workers, 40 Lakh native Adivasis and Tribals engaged in Tendu leaves plucking, 30 Lakh Beedi Tobacco farmers and workers who are directly dependent on the industry COTPA amendments should not be applied to it.