SAMBALPUR: Unhindered kendu leaf collection has helped in providing livelihood to lakhs of pluckers, mostly tribal and marginalised, in nine western districts of Odisha amidst the pandemic which has wreaked havoc on the economy of the rural poor.
Every year, around eight lakh kendu leaf pluckers in Sundargarh, Deogarh, Kalahandi, Jharsuguda, Sambalpur, Bargarh, Balangir, Sonepur and Nuapada are engaged in the activity from April to May. Despite the prevailing Covid crisis, leaves worth Rs 166.50 crore were plucked this year, around Rs 47.50 crore more than the previous year.
President of Odisha Kendu Patra Karmachari Sangha (OKKS) Bijaya Mohanty said, “Every year, this process generates employment for lakhs of people for more than a month along with good revenue for the government without any investment. While each kendu leaf plucker gets Rs 3,000 on an average, this year they will get a bonus after the produce is sold to traders by the Odisha Forest Development Corporation (OFDC).”
The leaf pluckers had received a 50 per cent bonus last year and expect a higher percentage this year as the quality of the leaves are good this time. Along with pluckers, over 20,000 semi-skilled labourers who bind the leaves also earn from the process for at least five months from May to October. Around 18,000 binders have already been engaged for leaf binding this year.
Last year, a target was set to procure 2,50,000 quintal of kendu leaves from the pluckers but around 1.57 lakh quintal could be plucked and procured by the government due to lockdown along with bad weather and administrative problem. However, this year, a target was set to procure 2,50,500 quintal and around 91 per cent of the target has been achieved.
Kandhamal pluckers hit
Kendu leaf pluckers of Kandhamal division have a different story to tell. Severely hit during the second wave of the pandemic, the pluckers were late as the State government allowed operations from May 5 this year. Plucking here usually starts in the second week of March and concludes mid-June. To add to the woes, untimely rain and Nor’wester wreaked havoc on the leaves and damaged them substantially, resulting in decreased collection.
Earlier, the workers made bundles consisting of 20 leaves in each and got paid one rupee per bundle, amounting to a total of Rs 200-300 per day. This year, their income has been reduced to Rs 100-150 per day making life difficult for them. To give a boost to collection of leaves, the department gives incentives to the workers every year, but this time the workers allege that they have not received anything. The District Forest Officer Patitapaban Parida said payment for bush cutting has already been done and wages and bonus will be transferred to the bank accounts of the workers soon.