MALKANGIRI: Exploitation by middlemen and pending dues has led to resentment among kendu leaf pluckers across the district.While the pluckers toil entire day collecting leaves and binding those into bundles, private players loot them of their labour by paying less leaving the collectors struggling to make ends meet.
The pluckers blame Government for the distress sale. This year, the State Government has set a procurement target of 91,120 bags, each comprising 1,250 bundles, for the district paving the way for private players to exploit the collector.
Even as Kendu Leaf Department - a wing of Forest Department - claims to have created collection centre (phadis) in six Kendu Leaf ranges across the district under Jeypore Kendu Leaf division and provided better marketing options, the situation is different at the grassroots. Middlemen from Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh have set up camps in the villages since the last few weeks and struck deals with the pluckers.
With the Government-set target much less than the collection and several collectors not registered, the pluckers have no option but to sell the bundles to private parties at distress prices. The private parties pay between `200 and `250 per 100 bundles (‘chata’), sources said. This is way less than the benefits provided by the State Government to the pluckers. Only about 40,000 kendu leaf pluckers are registered in the district.
Besides providing `2 lakh insurance coverage and education facilities for their children, the Government pays `200 labour charges and `200 bonus to each plucker for 100 bundles (chata). Other benefits like slippers and umbrella are also included. However, Government deposits the money in bank accounts of pluckers, which many could not open.
Mara Kawasi (40), a kendu leaf plucker of Parmilapadar village under Pottrel panchayat in Balimela range, has not been paid dues since 2017. He had sold 2,500 bundles and 800 bundles in 2017 and 2018 respectively to Government agencies at a ‘phadi’.
Kawasi said, “We do not have any bank in our village how can we open an account. We have to travel around 20 km to reach Korukonda or Balimela to open an account which entails a travel cost and is time consuming. The Government should pay our bonus in cash.”
Jeypore-based Divisional Forest Officer (Kendu Leaf) IZ Khan said he has written to Malkangiri district panchayat officer to keep a record of details of private buyers basing on which permission is granted. However, we have not received any communication from the officer, he said.
This apart, the pluckers want instant cash and they prefer to sell it to private parties instead of government collection centres, he cited.
About paying Kawasi’s dues, Khan said, ‘‘My staff would meet Kawasi and do the needful to open bank account in his name.”