Beedi contractors in Dakshina Kannada say that the Mangalore beedi industry may survive only for three more years. “It will go the Mangalore tiles way,” according to J. Ibrahim, General Secretary, Karnataka State Beedi Contractors' Federation. He was addressing presspersons on the sidelines of a press meet here on Monday.
The industry is facing a severe crunch of workers, according to beedi contractors, who source raw material from companies and get them rolled into beedis by workers, who are usually women.
“Education has made workers move away from this work,” said Haji Jaleel Puttur, treasurer of the federation. Despite demand and availability of raw material, the industry was struggling as workers had taken up other occupations. This year, 60 per cent of the workers left the industry, he added.
The younger generation had moved away from beedi-rolling to restaurant business or other jobs. “Our children don't want to join this industry,” Mr. Ibrahim said. “Women, who used to roll beedis, prefer other work. They are now employed in ice-cream parlours,” he added.
The district had two lakh permanent beedi workers. Of them, 90 per cent were women.
Another 60,000 workers worked on a temporary basis around the year. Now, all the workers were aged above 50. In the past couple of years, nobody aged less than 30 joined the industry, Mr. Jaleel Puttur said.
On an average, a worker rolled 1,000 beedis a day. Depending on help at home from children and others, some workers rolled up to 2,000 beedis a day. While the minimum wage specified by the government was Rs. 103, a beedi worker would get Rs. 93 for rolling 1,000 beedis, they said.
The district has 64 depots (collecting centres where contractors take raw material and tobacco from beedi companies). There are 300 to 500 “branches”, which are shops of contractors, where workers collect raw material and return the rolled beedis.
Mohammed Rafi, working president of the federation, said the contractors got Rs. 6.90 from beedi companies for 1,000 beedis. The contractors now wanted Rs. 10 from the companies for the same number of beedis. “Earlier, production was good. Now, the quantity produced is lesser and we have to pay ourselves for transport,” Mr. Ibrahim said.
The district produces 50 crore beedis a week as against double that quantity produced three years ago. Ten per cent of production of beedis from Dakshina Kannada is exported to West Asia, the U.S., Singapore, Japan and Indonesia.
The raw material for beedis come from outside the State. While “tendu” leaves come from Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, tobacco comes from Nippani and Ahmedabad.
The most flavoursome leaves are from Chhattisgarh and the finest tobacco is from Nippani.
One kg of tobacco can be used to roll 5,600 beedis. A pack of 25 beedis is sold for Rs. 9, according to Mr. Ibrahim.