Bidi workers want alternative livelihood, pictorial warning

November 3rd, 2008 - 7:43 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 3 (IANS) The tobacco industry might be fighting against pictorial health warnings but millions of bidi workers favour it and are eager to shift from their present occupation, a new study released Monday said.”The bidi workers, majority of whom are bidi smokers, are in favour of pictorial health warnings on bidi packets. About 73 percent of the workers agreed that bidis are harmful to health and 79 percent felt that picture based warnings are important on bidi packets, at least to protect the younger generation,” said the study conducted by the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI).

The health ministry is making pictorial health warnings mandatory on all tobacco products from Dec 1 but the tobacco lobby and some politicians are opposing it vehemently.

Similarly, the study, which focused on West Bengal and Gujarat, found that bidi workers living in utter poverty, ill health and pathetic conditions want to shift their profession.

“Over 95 percent of bidi workers want to shift provided other livelihood opportunities are available to them,” the study revealed.

In India, the bidi industry employees around 4.4 million full time workers and additional 4 million in bidi-industry related jobs. Majority of them are poor, illiterate women.

Though there are no specific figures on how many bidis are produced annually, an estimated 750 billion to 1.2 trillion are rolled every year in the country.

Alok Mukhopadhyay, the chief executive of VHAI, a federation voluntary organisations working on areas related to health, said milk based occupation, dry fish and sericulture are some of the profitable alternatives that these bidi workers can adopt.

“If we can send a scientific mission to moon, why can we not rehabilitate millions of people struggling to earn two meals a day and a life of dignity,” Mukhopadhyay said.

Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, the director of VHAI, said the industry is keeping its employees in perennial poverty.

“Bidi rollers suffer from multiple illness like lung cancer, TB and other chronic ailments, which debilitate them and prevent them from taking any other profession,” she said.

The study revealed that bidi workers get a paltry Rs.33 for rolling 1,000 bidis, which generally takes over 12 hours. “This is not even 50 percent of the minimum wage fixed by the government.”

The study also highlights the deplorable working condition, lack of basic medical facility and flouting of child labour laws by the multi-billion rupees bidi industry.

It is estimated that bidi smoking kills 600,000 people every year.

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