Pune: A delegation of the Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) met with Minister of Commerce & Industry and Civil Aviation Suresh Prabhu to ask for the beedi, a hand-rolled smoke made out of tendupatta and tobacco popular in rural India, as an ‘employment-generating industry’ and not club it with other tobacco products like cigarettes.
BMS argued that beedis generate employment on a large scale. “Beedis are a natural smoke, which finds mention even in Puranas. The Industry has more than 80 lakh registered Beedi rollers, 2 crore 60 lakh farmers and farm labourers, 40 lakh tendupatta gatherers and countless retailers and vendors. The Industry employs almost 4.5 crore people,” said Umesh Vishwad of the All India Beedi Association, which is aligned with the BMS.
The BMS anticipates that a petition filed with the Rajasthan Human Rights Commission calling tobacco a large scale cause of mortality will usher a new law banning tobacco products including beedis. “The NGO has claimed that tobacco consumption kills 10 lakh people each year in India. When we took out the data, the total number of all kinds of deaths that happen came to 11 lakh. These NGOs, who have foreign interests and funding, make such claim,” Vishwad said.
Vishwad also says that they are not opposed to regulation of tobacco. “We do not support tobacco consumption. It is just a question of livelihood of crores of people. Even the International Labour Organisation tried to provide beedi workers with alternative employment but such attempts have repeatedly failed,” Vishwad said, adding, “Even the skill development programmes run for them are ill-designed.”
“The tendupatta industry too will collapse with a ban on beedis. These tribals could then turn towards Naxalite activities, creating a huge internal security threat,” Vishwad said and added, “The minister has heard the delegation’s request and has assured that he will consult with other concerned ministries and try to separate beedis from other tobacco products.”