SAMBALPUR: The seizure of 22.5 quintals of kendu leaf packed in 110 bundles by Forest officials and Government Railway Police at Rourkela Railway Station from Jagdalpur-Howrah Samaleswari Express in the first week of July has exposed the flourishing smuggling of kendu leaf. The smuggling of kendu leaf on July 3 would have gone unnoticed had the smugglers not chosen the wrong train.
Normally, the ‘golden leaves’, as the minor forest produce is referred to for its high value from which Beedi is made, are smuggled in Titlagarh-Howrah Ispat Express. The bundles are stacked inside toilets or tucked under the seats.
But with Samaleswari being a night train, the passengers raised objection to the blocking of toilets and space underneath the seats, forcing the Train Ticket Examiner (TTE) and the Railway Protection Force (RPF) to act.Such complaints of passengers, however, are overlooked in Ispat Express by both the TTE and RPF who allegedly get kickbacks from the smugglers, sources said.
In fact, a parallel economy involving kendu leaf smuggling flourishes in rural areas of western Odisha. More than the villagers, it is the State Government which is to blame for the illegal trade.
While there are 19 kendu leaf divisions across the State, the Government has set a target to procure 4.5 to 5 lakh quintals of the minor forest produce through Phadis (stores) in various divisions. After the Forest Department stops procurement on reaching the target, some additional amount of kendu leaves is left with the villagers.
The surplus leaves retained by the villagers are sold to traders who in turn smuggle those to West Bengal causing huge loss to the State exchequer.The leaves are usually unloaded in railway stations close to Howrah like Jhargram and Santaragachi and then sold to Beedi manufacturers who are more than happy to purchase it as the minor forest produce from Odisha is of high quality. Moreover, if the manufacturers buy kendu leaves officially through open auction, it will eat into their profit.
The State Government pays 80 paise for every bundle of 20 kendu leaves to pluckers besides another 80 paise as bonus or `4,500 per quintal. Later, it collects the leaves from all the divisions which is then put up for open auction attended by Beedi manufacturers. Last season, the Government had auctioned kendu leaves worth `900 crore of which `300 crore was spent on management and another `300 crore on welfare including bonus.
A study has revealed that Odisha has a potential to officially procure 10 lakh quintals of kendu leaves. Secretary of Odisha Kendu Patra Karmachari Sangha Gokul Meher said the smuggling would stop if the State Government either raises the target or follows the process of paddy procurement and procures all kendu leaves that are brought to Phadis. Meher revealed that the illegal trade is prominent in Jujumura area under Sambalpur Division, Naktideul and Rairakhol under Rairakhol Division, Kuchinda Division besides some areas under Athamallick Division.
Three held for illegal transport of kendu leaves
Sambalpur: Police arrested three persons for illegally transporting kendu leaves in a milk delivery van at Daincha within Naktideul police limits here on Sunday. Around 10 quintals of kendu leaves were seized from their possession. The accused were identified as Mohan Chandra Mahanta (52) of Beutibeda and Sarbeswar Mahanta (50) of Aurachandabila, both of Mayurbhanj district as well as Sukadev Dehury (45) of Charmal in Sambalpur. Acting on a tip off, police intercepted the van, which was headed to Kendrapara from Daincha. On search, police detected 245 bundles of kendu leaves stacked in the vehicle. A case has been registered and further investigation is on.