The study recommends alternative livelihood options and other significant measures to address supply-side concerns. The study was conducted among tobacco farmers, tendu leaf pluckers and bidi rollers in States of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.

Highlighting the fact that the tobacco industry oftenpays the lowest possible wages, keeping its workers in a cycle of poverty, debt and ill-health, a recent research study titled“At the crossroads of life and livelihood: The economics, poverty and working conditions of people employed in the tobacco industry in India” presents key evidence linking tobacco production and manufacturing with crucial issues of growing poverty and impeded development.

The study recommends alternative livelihood options and other significant measures to address supply-side concerns. The study was conducted among tobacco farmers, tendu leaf pluckers and bidi rollers in States of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.

“Tobacco workers have waited for long for the government to show strong political will that can turn their fate and give them and their future generations hope for a life of dignity and self-reliance,'' says Alok Mukhopadhyay, Chief Executive of Voluntary Health Association of India.

The Association conducted the study and found that contrary to popular belief, tobacco is not a profitable cash crop. The report also found that the bidi companies pay very low wages, as low as Rs.23/per 1000 bidis rolled in certain parts of the country. Due to this reason, this work is mostly done by women and children. Though child labour is prohibited in the country, children continue to work for long hours in the tobacco industry, losing out on educational opportunities, nutritional food and time to play, which impedes normal growth and development, the report states.

“We also found that a majority of tobacco workers want to shift from their present occupations which have kept them in unending poverty to safer alternative means of livelihood. At present, most of them work for the tobacco industry as they have no choice due to lack of skills or other employment opportunities,'' says Mr. Mukhopadhyay.

The study has recommended a national initiative for working towards generating safer alternative sources of livelihoods for tobacco workers. “Rehabilitation measures must keep in mind the aspirations of the community, lifestyles of tobacco farmers, tendu pluckers and bidi rollers as well as their level of skills and constraints. The government should stop the contradictory policies of tobacco promotion on one hand and tobacco control on the other,” notes the study.

Keywords: Labour welfare

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