Beedi workers in Odisha are victim of political apathy

For a very small remuneration of Rs 30 to 35 per day, they work from morning to evening in a mechanical and potentially life-threatening occupation of beedi rolling find no way out due to the continuous apathy from the government and the political leaders.

beedi worker in Jharsuguda and the Sambalpur district’s bordering area  faces multiple problems in terms of the wage revision, the health facility and other benefit meant for them.

Resentment is brewing among thousands of beedi workers of this area, and lost the faith on the democracy. As a result they have not participated in Panchayat polls and will not caste vote.

People in this back up beyond villages  are a disillusioned a lot with elections promises by candidates where a dime a dozen in the run up to polls ,but none was redeemed once the process was over, said inhabitants of Kati Kela village of Jharsuguda district . With election after election failing to change the face of the village and the poor condition of the people specially the poor beedi worker, they have decided to give Panchayat polls a miss this time.

“Why should I Vote? Can it change my life anywhere? I still have to toil for twelve hours a day to sustain my family and will perish one day just like my parents and my husband who left nothing behind for us .They had exercise their franchise and so did I .But it hardly made any difference. My husband died on TB with no treatment. ” Said Sanjukta Pradhan of the village sounding cynical. Leaders visit the village every election and promised the moon, but once the poll is over, they are nowhere to be seen, she added.

She is aware that the government has launched numerous schemes for the welfare of the beedi workers, but the benefits elude them due to indifference of elected representatives.

She manage to earn Rs 40 to 45 only a day by rolling six to seven hundred beedi while her  son Kartika (15) contributes  some amount to the family income by working as a beedi roller after dropping out from the school. She has decided not to vote along with fellow beedi rollers this time around.

“I have been rolling beedi since12 years nobody is caring for our beedi worker. We are casting vote and every time gets the promise from the leader that they will take up our issue but nothing has been done so far as beedi worker is concern. So we have decided not to caste our vote why will we elect them who are not care for us? Told Satyabati Sahu, a beedi roller of Laikara Block of Jharsuguda district.

“We know this is hazardous occupation and we are suffering with many diseases like Asthma, TB and Gynecological problems   still we are doing because we don’t have any other source of livelihood. If we would have our land and house and source of livelihood why would have we accepted this occupation?”Binodini, another beedi worker questioned.

“Our local representatives are concern about their own interest. Always promised us for lot of things but after election we can’t even see the face of our own Sarpanch and Zilla parisad member, because most of their time, they spent in Bhubaneswar, doing lobby to get ticket for the next Assembly election”. She busted.

“Minimum wages to roll 1000 beedi has revised since last three years, wage for a beedi roller is Rs 63.28 and the dearness allowance is Rs 2.50paisa, which make total 65.78 paisa, which a beedi roller is entitled to per 1,000 beedis. Out of 65.78 paisa, about Rs 5 is deducted for his provident fund. Hence, a beedi roller should be getting at least Rs 60/- for 1,000 beedis. But the employers release just Rs 45 or so to the middlemen who in turn pay only Rs 42 to the beedi rollers.This non implementation of wage for beedi worker is due to  lack of political will power”.
Blamed Mr. Mitrabhanu Podh,General Secretary, Nikhil Orissa Beedi worker federation.

“Apart from this beedi workers union had fighting for the 50 bedded hospital in the Rengali because these workers are facing lot of health hazards. A proposal for establishment of a hospital at Rengali has been pending since 2002, even the district administration has earmarked 20 acres of land in Rengali for the purpose. though paperwork reflects that a financial sanction of ` 87 lakh had also been made for boundary wall, the project seems to be moving at a snail’s pace not only due to government’s apathy but also due to lack of will power of our own local political leaders.”.He added.

“It is very surprising thing that though the beedi workers comprising one of the major vote bank for any political party but none of them have taken their problem seriously. This time also in the Panchayat poll no political party mentioned the problem of the beedi worker in their local manifesto”.Basant Jena, a local journalist pointed out.

Meanwhile the local leaders who are contesting on the Panchaayat poll are shifting the responsibility to one another. While the Congress candidates telling that the center has already many schemes for the beedi workers, it is the responsibility of the state government to see its proper implementation. The BJD candidates are beating their drum of success.

Umakant Nayak contesting for the Zilla parisad from Laikera zone II told “It is the responsibility of the central government to implement the scheme meant for the beedi workers they are coming under the central government schemes.  Our BJD party has done lot of thing for the benefit of the poor, rural mass. When we contest for election, we have bigger issues to address, the issues like health, education, food security etc. and these beedi workers will definitely cover within this”. Though this time we do not have specific agenda to address the problems of the beedi workers but after election we will definitely looking in to the matters. He added.

“I am well aware of the problems of our beedi workers. I also admitted the fact that over the years they are ignored and neglected .If I will be elected this time definitely I will raised voice on their behalf.”Another Zilla Parisad contestant Prasant Biswal told.

It need to mentioned that there are more than one lakh twenty thousand beedi workers are in Jharsuguda district alone.

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