Bengal’s beedi-making hub reels from lockdown shockUpdated: Apr 08, 2020, 23:45 IST
Berhampore: A day after chief minister Mamata Banerjee exempted the state’s beedi industry from lockdown, saying it was question of livelihood for millions, nothing changed in Murshidabad district, Bengal’s biggest beedi-making hub.
The ongoing 21-day lockdown has hurt the 1.5 million people in the district who depend, directly or indirectly, on the bidi industry . They have been living off their savings, and food provided by the state and non-government organisations.
In certain pockets of Murshidabad, entire families depend on beedi making. Workers are paid Rs 152 for every thousand beedis they roll. The raw material are supplied by factory owners through ‘munshsis’ (agents). The munshsis also collect the beedis. There are around 100 factories in the district’s Jangipur sub-division alone.
On Wednesday, the munshsis were nowhere to be seen, said beedi makers who were enthused by Banerjee’s announcement.
Anwar Hussain, a beedi maker at Uttar Chachonda village said: “We thought things would change after the chief minister’s announcement. But today we came to know that production will not start. I don’t know how I will run my family.”
Approximately 2.2 million people in West Bengal are directly associated with beedi making and 95% of the total production is sent to other states, said people in the beedi trade. With no way to transport beedis across borders, most factories remain shut.
Abul Hasnat Khan, president, West Bengal State Beedi and Tobacco Labourers Federation said, “The chief minister’s announcement will help less than 1% of the bidi makers. She did not consider the fact that all big factories send their products to other states. With no trains and interstate transport, the consignments cannot be sent.”
“Moreover, the big factories employ around 250 people. It is not possible to start production maintaining social distance,” Khan added.
Niponjeet Biswas, owner of Jeet Bidi Factory sees another problem.
“Most of the factory owners have adequate tobacco and leaves of kendu trees (in which the tobacco is rolled) in stock but we need regular supply of coal to toast the beedis. We need packaging labels, thread. Also, it is literally impossible to store the beedis for a long time. If we can’t sell what is the point in starting production?”
Trinamool Congress Lok Sabha member from Jangipur , Khalilur Rahaman, who is in the beedi trade said, “If we cannot sell in other states it is impossible to start production. We are trying to find a solution to honour the initiative of our chief minister and help the poor labourers.”
Nazir Hossain, a munshi, said, “We were optimistic about Banerjee’s announcement. After talking to several factory owners I have realised that production will not start till the Union government allows movement of trucks from West Bengal to other states.”
“Several beedi-laden trucks from West Bengal are stranded in other states due to the lockdown. No beedi merchant with sizeable business will start production till the Centre gives its nod,” Hossain added.
Secretary of Aurangabad-Dhulian Beedi Merchants Association Raj Kumar Jain said: “We welcome the much needed initiative of our chief minister. A lion’s share of Murshidabad’s beedis are sent to Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi, Assam, Haryana and states in south India but neither the Centre nor any of these states have allowed any exemption for production or transportation of beedis. Also, the state administration has not issued travel passes for munshis and labourers. Without passes they cannot move even inside the district.”
Minister of state for labour Jakir Hossain, who owns a beedi factory said, “Our chief minister has taken a humanitarian decision for the sake of millions. I will appeal to the Centre to reduce the goods and services tax (GST) on beedis and allow consignments to be transported to other states.”
The GST on total sale value of both beedis and cigarettes is 28%, Jain said.