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Odisha bidi rollers suffer as factories remain close due to COVID-19 lockdown

General secretary of Sambalpur Zilla Bidi Shramik Union Mitrabhanu Podh said all bidi companies were closed after imposition of the nationwide lockdown on March 25.

Published: 23rd May 2020 09:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd May 2020 09:00 AM   |  A+A-

File picture of women rolling bidis in a village in Sambalpur district

By Express News Service

SAMBALPUR: The lockdown has come as a huge jolt to bidi rollers of the district. With only five of 27 registered bidi companies currently functioning in the district, the rollers, most of whom are poor, are finding it tough to make ends meet. The workers earn Rs 142.62 for rolling 1,000 bidis from kendu leaves, tobacco and threads given to them by the companies where they work.

General secretary of Sambalpur Zilla Bidi Shramik Union Mitrabhanu Podh said all bidi companies were closed after imposition of the nationwide lockdown on March 25. “However, five of them started operations during the third phase of the lockdown when the Government relaxed the norms a bit,” he said. The Bidi Shramik Union has been urging the rest of the companies to start operations but in vain. 

There are around 1.45 lakh bidi rollers in the district and the majority of them are women belonging to poor families. They work in the units to augment their family income. Podh said the bidi companies had cut down on production after 28 per cent GST was imposed on the product. The exorbitant tax has not only affected the sale of bidi but also those involved in its manufacturing. In such circumstances, the lockdown has come as a major blow to the industry. 

Even as the Government is announcing assistance for various sections of the society, it seems to have forgotten the bidi rollers. “They have been left to suffer,” Podh said. 

68-year-old Rupabati Pradhan of Rengloi village in Rengali block said she along with her daughter-in-law used to roll bidi in her house and they earned around Rs 300 each in a week. But the bidi company, which provided them kendu leaves, tobacco and thread, has stopped functioning due to the lockdown. “I am eagerly waiting for the company to reopen,” she said.

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