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Phased deregulation of kendu leaf trade on the cards in Odisha

An old woman working with kendu leaves in Odisha. File   | Photo Credit: Biswaranjan Rout

As tribals and forest dwellers seek greater autonomy in handling forest resources, especially kendu leaves, the Odisha government is contemplating to provide gram sabhas rights over its trade as envisaged in the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

Close to one million people mostly tribals depend on collection and sale of kendu leaves in Odisha. The trade provides employment to kendu leaf pluckers for about three to four months stretching from April to October. Villagers are involved in both unskilled and semi-skilled labour for bush cutting, plucking and binding.

The leaves are used to roll tobacco into beedis, while the volume of trade runs to the tune of ₹1,000 crores in the State. The proposed deregulation of kendu leaf trade is likely to benefit sizeable population living on edge of forests.

Currently, kendu leaf trade is controlled solely by the Kendu Leaf Wing of the Forest Department and the Odisha Forest Development Corporation (OFDC). While the OFDC has managed to earn crores as profit from the trade, the sale price of kendu leaves has largely stagnated for decades making it difficult for the forest dwellers to survive.

The demand for deregulation of kendu leaves gained momentum in recent times after people reaped benefits in 26 villages of Kalahandi district when gram sabhas allowed private traders to operate along with the government agencies. In 2017, the Forest Department had deregulated kendu leaf trade in favour of villagers as per rights conferred under Section-3 (i) (c) of Forest Right Act on an experimental basis.

“There has been a three-fold jump in the income from sale of kendu leaves to private traders. While the OFDC offered a meagre ₹ 1.10 per ‘kerry’ (20 leaves), the private traders offered ₹3.25 for the same unit in the 2020 crop year. Besides, for bush cutting, the private traders are allocating more man-days than the government,” said Byasadev Majhi, Secretary of Grama Sabha Mahasangha, Kalahandi.

The biggest advantage, however, had been gram sabha’s ability to directly negotiate with private players for instant payment for the kendu leaf stock. In the case of the government agency, the payment was inordinately delayed, sometimes up to one year, Mr. Majhi said.

Kendu leaf pluckers from Kalahandi district urge the government to allow private traders to operate along with the OFDC. The presence of the OFDC as an additional buyer would address the Forest Department’s apprehension of private traders’ possible exploitation of kendu leaf pluckers during adverse market conditions.

Government sources said, “the decision to deregulate kendu leaf trade is likely to be taken within the framework of the Forest Right Act. The FRA confers the right of managing forest resources where community forest rights have been delineated.” Another reason behind the government’s serious contemplation on deregulating trade could be the forthcoming panchayat elections. As the number of kendu leaf pluckers is close to a million, they may become a significant factor in influencing the electoral outcome, especially in western Odisha.

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2021 11:02:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/phased-deregulation-of-kendu-leaf-trade-on-the-cards-in-odisha/article36375528.ece

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