Representational picture
Representational picture

BHOPAL: The bidi industry in the state, which is already reeling under the impact of low excise duty on filterless cigarettes, may be in for a fatal blow in the form of the new regulations. The new rules notified on December 31, 2020, under the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), 2003, will come into force on February 1 pan-India.

Madhya Pradesh is one of the hubs of the bidi industry, which has its roots in the Bundelkhand-Mahakaushal regions of the state extending from Sagar to Jabalpur. Thanks to the ample supply of Tendu leaves, which form the outer covering of bidis, the region had emerged as the biggest centre for bidi manufacturing in the state.

The industry, which gives gainful employment to lakhs of people, was at its peak in the 1980s. Thereafter, due to the state government's regulations and restrictions, it increasingly moved to West Bengal and other states in the eastern and southern parts of the country.

The new rules have many provisions that would sound the death knell for the bidi industry. ccording to the new rules, bidi manufacturers will not be allowed to display the name of their brand on the wrappers. Besides, retailers are also prohibited from displaying bundles of bidis at their counter. This clearly means that buyers will not know if the outlet is selling bidis or not. Moreover, they will not be able to know which shop is selling their preferred brand.

The sale of loose bidis has been prohibited and all bundles need to carry the date of manufacture and the MRP. Each bundle should compulsorily have 25 bidis. Also, all bidi-sellers will have to get themselves registered under the COTPA and those failing to do so will face hefty fines and even jail terms. Those found not adhering to the provisions of the Act may have to spend up to seven years in jail.

What is surprising is that before notifying the rules, the government did not consider it appropriate to hold consultations with bidi workers, manufactures, tobacco farmers, paan shop owners and other stakeholders.

'Beginning of the end of the bidi industry'

"The new rules mark the beginning of the end of the bidi industry. They contend that the industry employs lakhs of people , who work from their homes and make a living by rolling bidis," Aniruddh Pimplapure, Bidi Manufacturers' Association member, said.

Tendu leaf-plucking contract already given

Interestingly, the state government has already auctioned the contracts for plucking of Tendu leaves, which are expected to bring in revenue of Rs 1,100 crore to the government. The state president of the State Tendu Patta Vyapari Association, Ghanshyam Garg, said, “Only the Almighty knows what'll happen to the Tendu leaves stored in government godowns if the industry faces a sharp slump in demand."

Why equate bidi with cigarette industry?

Bidi-making is an agro-forest-based cottage industry, a source of livelihood for crores of people. It includes around 2.6 crore farmers who grow tobacco, around 85 lakh bidi workers, more than 40 lakh tribal families who collect Tendu leaves and upwards of 75 lakh pan shop-owners. It is an industry which consumes neither electricity, nor water and, thus, has a very low carbon footprint. But it is being equated with the cigarette industry, which uses machines and is polluting.

New rules to come in force on February 1

  • Bidi manufacturers prohibited from displaying name of their brand on wrapper

  • Retailers not to display bidi bundles at their counter, sale of loose bidis prohibited

  • All bidi bundles to carry date of manufacture and MRP

  • All bidi-sellers to get themselves registered under COTPA

  • Rule violation to invite hefty fine and up to seven years' jail term

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Free Press Journal