Sixty-seven-year-old A. Govindasamy has been rolling beedis for a living since the age of 10. Going through struggles is not new for him, but he vouches that he has not been through such a crisis of working without wages for days.
For hundreds of beedi workers in the district, demonetisation, in short, has meant going without their daily wages. The withdrawal of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 notes has hit their livelihood, with beedi contractors unable to pay them daily due to cash crunch.
There are nearly 75,000 beedi workers in the district particularly in Katpadi, Melvisharam, Pernambut, Gudiyatham, Ambur and Tirupattur. Other districts such as Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari, Erode and Tiruvallur districts also have a significant population of beedi workers, according to M.P. Ramachandran, president of Tamil Nadu Beedi Thozhilalar Sammelanam.
“The two notes were withdrawn without adequate preparation. This has badly affected beedi workers. Business has been hit by at least 35 per cent in Vellore. The workers have not received wages for more than two weeks,” he added.
There are 300 branches of trademark beedis in the district. Each branch will have to pay a minimum of Rs. 60,000 towards wages, he said, adding that the beedi contractors, who pay the workers, are unable to withdraw the stipulated Rs. 24,000 and were drawing only Rs. 10,000.
A section of workers in Vijayaraghavapuram, which is home to several beedi workers, said they have not received their wages properly in the last three weeks. On an average, the workers are paid Rs. 300 a day for rolling 1,500 beedis.
“I get Rs. 155 if I roll 1,000 beedis a day. The amount is low for retired persons like me. Beedi contractors are unable to pay us. In all these years, I have not faced such as situation of severe cash crunch,” Mr. Govindasamy, who rolls beedis for at least 12 hours at his house, said.
At least 75 per cent beedi workers in the district are women. For workers like Sangeetha of Vijayaraghavapuram, the absence of wages is having its effect on household needs.
“Until now, we have had no problems in getting our daily wages. The contractors tell us now that they have no cash in lower denomination and that it is difficult to pay us. So instead of rolling 1,000 beedis, we are rolling lesser number to get at least Rs. 50 or Rs. 100,” she said.
Some workers said that instead of daily wages, they were getting paid on a weekly basis but this too was in instalments. “My owner paid me once a week, and gave me the old Rs. 500 note. As a result, I had to spend at least half a day outside a bank to get it deposited. This affected my work,” said a beedi worker, requesting anonymity.
For workers, who are already grappling with dwindling business, demonetisation has dealt a severe blow. They demand that the Centre should permit use of the old notes until the financial situation improves.