VHAI Releases Research Study On Tobacco And Poverty In India


Recent Documentary Film and Research Study by VHAI reveal that the tobacco business benefits only the wealthy industry owners, leaving the farmers, bidi rollers and tendu pluckers in poverty and disease

 Giving Away So Much for So Little, a documentary film by VHAI poignantly captures the ardous and poverty-stricken lives of tendu leaf pluckers through hard-hitting case studies, shattering the myths around safety and viability of tobacco employment. The research study, 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. This strongly counters the false claims by the tobacco  industry about increased economic benefits both to its workers and to the Government. The study further highlights that the industry flouts all norms, pays lowest possible wages keeping its workers in a cycle of poverty, debt and ill-health.

 The Study recommends alternate livelihood options and other significant measures to address supply side concerns.  This study was conducted amongst tobacco farmers, tendu leaf pluckers  and bidi rollers in four states of India – Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.

“Tobacco workers who give away their everything for a pittance have waited since decades for the Government of India 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, VHAI.

Key Findings:

  • Contrary to popular belief, tobacco is not a profitable cash crop. The per acre production cost on capital input requirements and plant protection measures is highest in tobacco as compared to other crops. The chemical residues from tobacco plantation poison the soil, making it unsuitable for growing cereals or vegetables. In addition, rising costs of cultivating tobacco, low wages, high risk of crop failure, and exploitation at the hands of middlemen are reasons why marginal tobacco farmers find themselves constantly trapped in poverty and debt. 
  • Tobacco farmers also contract green tobacco sickness while picking leaves and inhale tobacco dust during cleaning and beating the tobacco bundles.
  • Bidi companies pay very low wages, as low as Rs 23/per 1000 bidis rolled in certain parts of India. Due to this reason, this work is mostly done by women and children. Though child labour is prohibited in India, children continue to work long hours for the tobacco industry, losing out on educational opportunities, nutritional food and leisure time to play, which impedes normal growth and development.
  • For tendu leaf pluckers, the income apart from being extremely low, involves hours of arduous labour and is very seasonal, lasting just over 2 months in a year. Most of the tendu pluckers live and work in geographically isolated areas, with barely any infrastructural facilities. They also face a number of occupational hazards.
  • 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.

Key Recommendations:

  • The study strongly recommends a national initiative for working towards generating safer alternative sources of livelihoods for tobacco workers.  Implementation of poverty eradication programmes of Government of India can be an immediate alternative solution for these workers. The alternatives must be designed with a long-term vision so that the benefits extend to the next generation as well, who should not be compelled under any circumstances to go back to their earlier occupation.  Rehabilitation measures must keep the aspirations of the community in mind, 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. Pro-active steps should be taken to discontinue grants for conducting tobacco-related research and current subsidies, and instead provide technical knowledge, seeds and marketing linkages for alternative crops.
  • To reduce demand, taxation on all forms of chewing and smoking tobacco (raw, bidis, gutka, and cigarettes) to be increased considerably. Currently, a differential tax rate system is followed, which rather than curbing consumption, encourages shifting from one product to another. A rational taxation policy on tobacco products will help in reducing tobacco use and increase revenue. Part of the revenue generated should be utilized through a systematic mechanism to support a national initiative for safer, alternative livelihoods for tobacco workers.
  • As a first step to reduce supply of tobacco, the Government should launch a comprehensive sensitization programme which reaches out to all tobacco workers to convince them about the hazards of tobacco use as well as the environmental and occupational hazards of tobacco cultivation and manufacture.
  • Tobacco farmers should be educated on alternative crops which can give better returns than tobacco, involve fewer chemical inputs, less labour, and less risk of loss in times of crop failure. In addition, farmers can also be encouraged to take up alternative economic activities like dairy farming, animal husbandry, horticulture and sericulture.
  • Till such time as benefits of alternative livelihoods reach bidi rollers, it is imperative to regulate the unorganized bidi industry by registering the companies and giving legitimate rights to the workers. The Government of India should take steps to enforce the provisions stipulated under the Bidi and Cigar Workers (Condition of Employment) Act 1966, Child Labour Act 1986, Bidi Workers Welfare Fund Act 1976, and the Bidi Welfare Cess Act 1976 to improve the overall working conditions of the bidi workers and give them their rightful benefits.
As tendu collection is a seasonal occupation, it is very crucial to address the issue of providing minimum wages, safer, alternate livelihoods to the forest dwellers which can provide them income for the better part of the year. Tendu pluckers can be given skill-training to work in cottage industries like fruit processing units, vegetable-growing, broom-making, local crafts, textiles and handlooms.
You are visitor no
HTML Hit Counters
Site Last Updated : © 2007 Resource Centre For Tobacco Free India , All Rights Reserved.