BALASORE/BARIPADA: Engaged in a hazardous occupation, they cannot even think of a secure future as the Government benefits elude them. They are the beedi rollers, whose work is tedious, yet face the fear of not earning enough to get bread and butter.
Once a flourishing cottage industry, beedi manufacturing has now failed to provide the rollers in northern parts of the State with a livelihood.
Radha, a village in Mayurbhanj district, once had 250 families engaged in the profession, despite the health hazards attached to it. The families which earned a decent living have now switched profession to earn enough for at least a square meal. No financial support from their employers and medical care, the workers felt exploited and decided to change vocation.
A couple of decades back, the beedis manufactured by Radha villagers were in high demand in the markets of Bhadrak, Keonjhar, Jajpur, Sundargarh and neighbouring states of Jharkhand, West Bengal and Bihar.
The picture is no better in villages of Pathana Mohalla, Kaji Mohalla, Khapranali under Soro NAC in Balasore district where the beedi workers are living at the mercy of middlemen.
Drastic fall in employment opportunities and non-revision of wages have forced many beedi workers to leave the job. Rajendra Mahalik, a manufacturer, said, earlier all seven members of his family were engaged in rolling beedis but now they are unable to continue it due to high interest rates of micro finance and moneylenders.
“We are deprived of basic rights and leading a miserable life. Though we have been working hard for a good living, it is still a distant dream as any government agency hardly supports us,” alleged another manufacturer Dibakar Singh.
Though the minimum wage of a labourer is `90 a day, the employers end up paying only ` 30 for 48 hours of labour. While many workers suffer from TB and other respiratory diseases, there are no medical facilities, alleged Jasina Bibi, a beedi worker of Pathan Mohalla.
A number of un-registered beedi manufacturing units have been supplying beedi to Khaira, Khrasahapur, Dagarpada, Gopalpur, Nilagiri and Bhadrak including Soro and Balasore.
The beedi rollers are bereft of the facilities despite the fact that the Labour Welfare Organisation, in 1996, had identified 300 families in Radha and its adjoining villages to provide financial support and social security like health insurance, maternity benefits, Provident Fund, scholarships for children and housing assistance. The beedi rollers have threatened to stage an agitation if benefits did not reach them.