DHENKANAL: In the absence of a Government policy to market sal leaves, tribals stitching plates and other items of the minor forest produce are being exploited by middlemen in the district. Middlemen purchase ‘khali’ plates and cups made of sal leaves at a low price from them and market it to earn huge profit, while tribals, particularly women, struggle to sustain their families from the meagre amount. Sources said more than 10,000 tribal families are engaged in collection of sal leaves from forests in Kankadahada, Parjang, Hindol and other parts of the district. They are engaged for over six months a year for collecting sal leaves and making ‘khali’ and ‘chaupati’.
Plucker Namita Padhan, a tribal woman of Bhalumunda village near Kamakshyanagar, said she spends six hours every day for collection of sal leaves and making plates and cups. “Eight sal leaves are required to make one plate and 80 such plates make a bundle which sells at `10 to `12 per bundle. We are able to make two bundles a day and earn `24 only,” she added.
Another plucker Suna Padhan said, “Braving wild animals, we pluck sal leaves from the reserve forest to eke out our living. But we never get the right price for the produce due to exploitation by middlemen. These middlemen sell a bundle of ‘khali’ for `40 to `50. Apart from sal leaves, we have no alternative source of income.”Though it is a minor forest produce, vendors should pay royalty but here middlemen neither pay royalty nor legally collect the leaves. They only sell the plate commercially making a huge profit. The Government need to fix price of sal leaves and monitor it strictly as price is fixed for kendu leaf, tribals suggest.
Tribal leader Akshya Pany said the district administration needs to take steps for economic empowerment of the forest dwellers. Dhenkanal Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Rinku Kumari said there is no committee for price fixation of sal leaves at the district level. There should be an arrangement for sale of minor forest produce. She said tribals can come with complaints against any exploitation by the middlemen.