Orissa <i>kendu</i> leaf workers end strike

on april 24, 2007, kendu leaf (used for rolling bidis) workers in Orissa ended their strike after the government fulfilled two of their demands. They had started the agitation on April 18 asking for, among other things, a hike in wages and salaries. The government increased the workers' wage from 23 paise to 25 paise per bundle of 20 leaves, and the salary of seasonal workers by 25 per cent. This revision is expected to benefit an estimated 18,00,000 workers in the state to the tune of Rs 10 crore annually.

The collection season extends between April and May every year and the April 20-30 period is when the quality of leaves is at its best and collection the highest. "With the kendu leaf workers protesting during the peak season work in over 8,000 collection centres had come to a halt,' says Jogendranath Tripathy, general secretary of Kendupatra Karmachari Sangh, an apex body of kendu leaf workers.Nationalised in 1973, kendu leaf trade has been one of the main economic activities of people in Orissa's hinterland.

Subash Mishra, conservator of forests (kendu leaf), is sympathetic to the cause of the wageworkers. "The government has suffered huge losses. If such conditions (strikes) continue, the trade will collapse in a few years, affecting them. The credit for the trade goes to pluckers, bush cutters, binders and sellers. The government takes care of their interests well but there are certain categories of seasonal workers such as guards, clerks, checkers, circle checkers and head checkers, who just add to the establishment cost,' says Mishra.

He also says that demand of kendu leaf has fallen in the international market as at least three countries