Puttur Taluk in Dakshina Kannada district has around 12 lakh Beedi workers, according to the Beedi Welfare Association. But all of these workers do not get the benefits provided by the Beedi Welfare Committee.
Balakrishna has been working as a sigri worker from last 30 years in Southern India Bidi Works Pvt. Ltd. in Bolwar, Puttur. Every day, he bakes around 5 lakh beedis inside huge hearth.
When he started working he used to earn 10 rupees every day and by the end of the month he would have 300 hundred rupees with him. Now, he earns 14,000 rupees every month.
He says, despite of the welfare schemes provided by the Beedi Welfare Organisation, there has been occasion where he has applied for scholarship for his children but has got no respond.
The Beedi Welfare Department which is a part of Ministry of Labour Welfare Organization Bengaluru was started in 2016. The fund is provided by the Centre government that distributes the fund to the organization in Bengaluru. The Labour Welfare Organization in Bengaluru then distributes the funds to various Districts in Karnataka.
Mr. Sanjeevarai, Secretary of Beedi Welfare Department in Puttur says that the department provides provident fund to beedi workers if they have worked for more than 10 years. They also get stipend after the age of 58. The stipend amount completely depends on the number of beedi they tie.
The scholarship that the department provides to children varies. For students from classes 1 to 7 get a scholarship of 500 rupees and it increases so on till class 12. Whereas the students pursuing bachelors get a scholarship of 3000 rupees and those who are doing masters get an amount of Rs. 8000-10,000 as scholarship fee. In order to improve girl education the department pays an extra amount of Rs. 250 as scholarship fee.
Vedavati, another beedi worker in Chickamudnoor village Taulk has been working as a beedi worker from last 26 years. Every day she rolls around 500 to 1000 beedis. She gets Rs. 140 for every 500 beedis. Around two years back she used to get Rs. 120 for the same number of beedis. She complains that she does have breathing problems at times and she often go to private hospitals for her treatment rather than the Beedi Welfare Hospital because most of the times there are no medicines in the clinic.
Dr. M.K Prasad, surgeon at Aadarsh Hospital in Puttur says that Beedi industry is a dying industry. He backed up his statement by giving a historical background of how beediwokers should used to work around 40-50 years ago. Things changed when contractors came into the scene. The contractors would act as middle-men between the beedi companies and the beedi workers. The payment which the beedi workers are supposed to get is actually taken away by these contractors.
He also described about the health hazards these beedi workers face while rolling beedis. Most of the beedi workers in Puttur have been working for more than 20 years. They tie the beedi while sitting on the entrance of their house. This is believed to be a wrong technique because the wind blows away all the tobacco inside their house.
While tying beedi they are supposed to covertheir face and mouth with cloth which no one does. Constant inhaling of raw tobacco also causes certain cardiovascular diseases to some of the beedi workers. Another problem which most of the beedi workers face is suffering from back pain.
“It is true that we have received complaints regarding the scholarships not being provided but the reality is that most people in these areas are Muslims and they are already receiving the minority benefit and scholarships and what they aren’t aware of is that they can’t get two scholarships at the same time. This scholarship is for those who don’t get other benefits and since most people get it already, they think the government isn’t providing them promised scholarships.” Says Welfare and Cess Commissioner, Mr. K Shekhar.
On being asked if beedi making as a profession was dying he said “yes it is not as prominent as it was and the cess collected is not enough to pay compensations or any other monetary benefits but the central government’s AwasYojna we’re providing houses to a lot of beedi makers and a large amount every year is given to the various schemes and scholarships provided to the beedi makers.”