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RSS affiliate to Modi govt: Withdraw pictorial warning order or face beedi industry shutdown

BMS says govt’s 13 April order making it mandatory to carry pictorial warnings on beedi bundles from 1 September will hit industry hard at a ‘most inopportune’ time.

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New Delhi: RSS-affiliated trade union Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh has asked the Narendra Modi government to withdraw a 13 April health ministry order that makes pictorial warnings mandatory on all beedi packages, failing which the beedi industry would close operations from 1 September 2020.

BMS general secretary Virjesh Upadhyay issued a statement saying the order would serve as a “big blow” to the beedi industry, and that the government was committing “continuous onslaughts” against it.

“Time has come to launch a united agitation to save beedi industry and livelihood of 4.5 crore people dependent on it, against the lopsided policies of central government, which will hamper livelihood of millions of rural poor and urban slums,” Upadhyay said Monday.

This is not the first time the BMS has criticised the policies of the BJP-led central government. Earlier, it had announced an agitation against labour reforms announced by BJP-ruled states such as Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, among others.

Speaking to ThePrint, Upadhyay explained that the pictorial warning, if carried according to the health ministry specifications, would cover most part of the packet, which would leave little space to print anything else, besides dissuading people from buying the product. He said the order would help big tobacco companies.

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Inappropriate timing

In the statement, Upadhyay said the timing of the health ministry’s order was “most inappropriate”.

“Over 4.5 crore people are dependent on the beedi and tendu leaf industry. Rural and small industries in the country are witnessing huge job losses… due to unprecedented pandemic. In such a situation, this is the most inappropriate time for the government to amend the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA),” he said.

He further accused the health ministry of bringing in “immature rules without considering basic livelihood of millions of workers depending on beedi industry”.

“The beedi manufacturing industry is a traditional agro-forest-based industry in India. It’s highly labour-intensive and predominantly unorganised. The beedi industry is one of the largest employers of workers in India, after the agriculture, handloom and construction sectors. The majority are uneducated rural folk engaged in beedi making. All these sections will be affected due to lopsided and hasty decisions of the government of India,” the BMS general secretary said.

“So, BMS strongly demands that the government should separate beedi from other tobacco products and formulates new policies accordingly.”

Join the struggle

The BMS has requested beedi industry owners, all the trade unions working among beedi workers, tobacco farmers, agriculture workers, tendu leaf pluckers, tribal workers and elected representatives in the beedi manufacturing areas to join what it has termed as a “struggle”.

In the past, Upadhyay said, both the labour ministry and the International Labour Organisation have tried to find alternate livelihoods for beedi workers, but have been unsuccessful.

“This is because a large population of workers mostly uneducated women belongs to OBC, SC/ST and Muslim communities. Similarly, the Ministry of Agriculture has tried to find alternative crops for tobacco, and spent crores of rupees every year to encourage farmers to grow crops alternative to tobacco cultivation. All these attempts have failed. The Tobacco Research Institute could not convince the farmers on alternate crops,” he said.

“Lack of comprehensive policy on beedi is the real issue. Almost seven ministries are dealing with this subject, and each ministry is thinking from different angles. Ultimately, it is the workforce which becomes the victim of the wrong and lopsided policies of the central government,” he said.

The BMS has requested the government to form an inter-ministry committee comprising the ministries of labour, health, agriculture, commerce, finance, forest, tribal affairs, home affairs, women and child development, and skill development to formulate a comprehensive policy.

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