India: Peasant producers of kendu leaves demand higher returns

Rebel bandh call for kendu price hike

OUR CORRESPONDENT, The Telegraph, Calcutta

Jamshedpur, April 12: Maoists have called a 48-hour bandh on Saturday in districts along the interstate borders of Jharkhand, Bengal and Odisha demanding a hike in prices of kendu leaves — a source of livelihood for tribals in summer.

The CPI(Maoist) bandh, to be effective from the midnight of April 15, is likely to impact East Singhbhum in the state, besides West Midnapore district of Bengal and Mayurbhanj in Odisha.

The Naxalite stronghold of Ghatshila sub-division in East Singhbhum shelters thousands of poor tribals who pluck kendu leaves from April to July, apart from working as seasonal farmers or wage earners.

The rebels are demanding a 20 per cent hike in the prices of kendu leaves, which are used for manufacturing bidi.

The Kendu leaf business has been providing livelihood support to millions of poor and
marginalized people in Orissa for over a century.

Two types of kendu leaves are sold — dry and raw.

At present, raw kendu leaves are priced at Rs 60 per bundle and the dry leaf at Rs 120. Each bundle contains 2,000 leaves.

Sources said the Naxalites were demanding that the government pay Rs 70 and Rs 140 respectively for every bundle of raw and dry kendu leaves.

East Singhbhum senior superintendent of police Akhilesh Kumar Jha said the police were aware of the Naxalite-sponsored interstate bandh call, adding they were taking steps to frustrate the attempts of the rebels to disrupt normal life.

“We will make necessary arrangements for ensuring that life in Ghatshila township as well as rural areas remain normal on April 15 and 16,” said the SSP, adding the police would deploy additional forces, if required.

According to forest officials, a tribal collects 5,000 kendu leaves on an average per day. The leaves are then sold to contractors authorised by the state forest department for collecting the bundles.

The season for collection of kendu leaf provides healthy earnings for tribals, especially the poorest among them, who do not have fixed sources of income throughout the year.

Police recover rebel posters

TNN | Apr 14, 2012

JAMSHEDPUR: Ahead of the two-day bandh call given by CPI (Maoist) in the bordering areas of three states, Odisha, Bengal and Jharkhand, the Ghatshila subdivision police have recovered posters and banners, allegedly put up by the rebels, demanding hike in kendu leaves procurement rate and support to the bandh call. The posters and banners were found in two different police station areas – Chakulia and Dhalbhumgarh. A banner put up on a tree at Bodamchati in Chakulia block asked for “level-playing field” so that the villagers trading in kendu leaves can earn enough. Kendu traders said last year also the Naxalites had put up such posters following which the villagers had earned good return on their produce.

In another instance, the Maoists also put up a banner at a place between Mahishadhar and Nuang villages in Dhalbhumgarh block appealing for comprehensive support to make the strike a success. The two-day bandh will come into effect from April 14 midnight. “Security in bordering areas is regularly being monitored. However, vigil has been intensified (ahead of the bandh),” said Ghatshila subdivisional police officer Naresh Kumar.

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