Demonetisation and industrial woes

The lights go out of the lives of Bengal bidi workers

Nearly 20,000 people who live in shacks at Kamalpur and Durgapur in Murshidabad district have one more problem to cope with now. The mere Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 4,000 they earn a month as bidi binders is not enough for a living, with river erosion in the two villages forcing them to move home every year. Now, demonetisation has robbed them of even that sum.

“All of us are out of work and have exhausted our savings,” says Zialul Sheikh from Kamalpur “For so long, the Ganga was a monster, swallowing our land ... now demonetisation is the new one,” he says.

Rajkumar Jain, secretary of the Bidi Merchants’ Association, says central Bengal has more than 6 lakh bidi workers. A majority of them are out of work now.

“In the Jangipur subdivision, the hub of bidi factories in the district, more than 4 lakh people work as bidi binders. In Malda’s Kaliachawk, about two lakh people work in the industry and a majority of them are out of work,” Mr. Jain says.

He says several factory owners have no choice but to shut down the factories as it is “impossible to pay the wages” because of the restrictions on withdrawal of cash from banks. Nearly Rs. 35 crore is required a week to pay wages in Malda and Murshidabad districts, he adds.

However, it is not just the payment of wages that has stopped. The cash crunch has severely disrupted the supply of tendu leaves, which comes mainly from Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha.

Factory owners say the rent for trucks is at least Rs. 1 lakh, out of which Rs. 20,000 has to be paid in cash for fuel and other expenses on the road. “It was initially very difficult to pay this amount and still we are failing to meet the expenses,” says Minister Jakir Hossain, who owns Shib Bidi, which employs more than 30,000 workers. He blames the Prime Minister for the “calamity”.

In the past two weeks several major bidi factories have shut down in the districts. The factory owners say they cannot pay wages any more. “And such notices were slapped overnight,” Zialul Sheikh says.

He is finding it difficult to sustain his family of seven as local shopkeepers stopped giving groceries to him on credit for the past two weeks. “There are days when we eat only once to save whatever little smaller denomination notes we have,” he adds.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 10:56:21 PM |

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