Beedi industry about to go up in smoke

Beedi industry about to go up in smoke

SAGAR । On 12th October, 2021 the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare constituted an expert committee to contemplate on the taxation policy for tobacco products. The committee consists of members from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, World Health Organisation, Niti Aayog, GST and Indirect taxes, Ministry of Finance and Health-Economist Dr. Rijo M. John. It is shocking, to say the least, that this committee has no representatives from the labour unions or manufacturers of tobacco products. Looking at the one-sided constitution of this committee it is evident that its motive is to eliminate tobacco from India for good. 

          According to Ajit Jain, chief of Beedi Kamgar Union, who has been struggling for over half a decade for welfare of beedi labourers, beedi industry is a source of livelihood for crores of labourers directly and indirectly. Mr. Jain also believes that there are powerful lobbies at work to eliminate beedi industry for their selfish financial gains. Beedi is made from Tendu leaves which are collected by as many as forty lakh families most of which are from tribal belts. Of late, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh announced that the Tendu-patta policy will be revised to give more benefits to the people of these tribal belts. But what good is tendu-patta if beedi will cease to exist! Looking to the situation it is correct to say that due to lack of adequate representation from all stakeholders including labour unions, any decisions or recommendations coming from the expert committee for tobacco taxation will be one-sided and biased. It appears that the obsession of MoHFW and WHO for tobacco has turned manic as they now perceive tobacco to be the only form of addictive health-hazard. Same goes for other departments of Central and State governments. An official letter dated 11th October, 2021 from the Deputy-Secretary of Commercial Tax (Liquor department) of Madhya Pradesh invited members to participate in a video-conference regarding how the consumption of alcohol could be "increased" in the state. Many a celebrity of international repute and fame have been endorsing pan-masalas and it is not uncommon to find various hard drugs on luxury cruises these days. However, for MoHFW and WHO, these do not seem to pose any harm to health or society! In fact, tobacco continued to be the centre of attention for them even during the second wave of covid-19 pandemic in India. 
According to Aniruddh Pimpalapure from Madhya Pradesh Beedi Udyog Sangh, unlike cigarettes other tobacco based industries, beedi is a labour-intensive, unorganised, rural-based cottage industry with minimal carbon-emissions and minimal carbon-foot print. It produces the same biodegradable products today as it did 250 years ago. Beedis can be very easily produced in the middle of nowhere as they just require some tendu and tobacco but no electricity or water. This industry is thus prone to unregistered tax-evaders, counterfeiters and smugglers. Any increase in excise, gst or any indirect tax or any more regulations will only make it easier for non-compliant players, tax-evaders, smugglers and counterfeiters to grow their markets and make the it harder for tax-compliant beedi manufacturers to compete with them. This will lead to a decline in government revenues from the industry. Instead of hiking tax-rates, a better approach would be to seal the leaks due to tax-evaders, smugglers and counterfeiters and bring them to book. Unfortunately, no one is interested in opinions from such petty manufacturers! On the occasion of India's achievement of administering 100 crore vaccine doses Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about "Vocal for Local", "Made in India" and encouraging small shopkeepers and indigenous industries. Yet, why does it seem that an industry born about 250 years ago in Madhya Pradesh is about to go up in smoke?!


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