Looks like paan (betel leaf) is set to play a role in the coming UP assembly elections.
With Congress national general secretary Rahul Gandhi scheduled to meet a select group of paan farmers in Delhi on Thursday, paan cultivation, concentrated mainly in Bundelkhand and facing bad times, may get some attention.
“There was 10,000 acres under paan cultivation in the state some years ago and now it is barely 1,000 acre,” says Chote Lal Chaurasia, general secretary, Akhil Bharatiya Chaurasia Mahasabha-Prantiya Sabha, UP.
Since the Mughal times, the paan from this part of India—mainly the Mahoba ones—have been the most famous across India, Pakistan and some other countries. But with ponds remaining dry for the most part of the year due to repeated droughts, the paan plantations (called Barejey) have been shrinking.
“No special arrangements for irrigation and no government support only added to the woes,” rues Chaurasia who met Rahul on December 1.
“It seems that he (Rahul) is serious about paan. He has given us time for a bigger meeting and we would apprise him of the problems,” said Chaurasia.
So what are the problems of paan?
Cultivation is shrinking, paan-masala has been replacing paan and nothing has been done to ensure proper irrigation (paan is a water intensive crop).
“And to top it all, despite agriculture status to paan cultivation by the union government, there have not been any schemes for its promotion,” adds Chaurasia listing some demands:
“We would seek a separate paan-package, demand reopening of the shut-down paan research institutes based in Mahoba and Banthara (Lucknow) and urge authorities to take measures to put some check on excessive production and consumption of paan-masala on the grounds of it being a major public health hazard,” says Chaurasia adding that “Paan unlike paan-masala has some good health points.” Contrary to the UP’s Bundelkhand paan farming, the Madhya Pradesh region’s cultivation is getting schemes from its government. MP is promoting financial subsidy scheme to help its paan farmers shift to hi-tech paan farming that includes modern green-house enclosures, sprinklers/drip irrigation etc.
Madhya Pradesh government offers grant at the rate of Rs 30,000 per Bareja (measuring 500 square metre) or 50% of the cost. In order to motivate betel leaf growers to make their Barejas hi-tech it was mandatory for them to make the Barejas hi-tech for entitlement to grant.
It is primarily the Chaurasias, who have monopoly of the paan business. The community also would ask Rahul Gandhi to give some state and national level posts to some Chaurasia members in the Congress.
“We will also urge him to nominate members for Vidhan Parishad and give tickets for assembly and parliamentary elections.