The news of children working at kendu leaf collection centres often trickle in during April-May every year. Children are mostly engaged in plucking, drying, collecting, etc
In May 2021, several children were seen collecting kendu leaves in the Joradobra Phadi (kendu leaf collection centre) under the Kesinga Forest Range, Bhawanipatna division, in Odisha’s Kalahandi district.
This was a clear violation of child rights — and also a reflection of the shoddy state of affairs across the state.
Kendu leaf is called the green gold of Odisha. It is a nationalised product like bamboo and sal seed. It is one of the most important non-wood forest products in Odisha.
The leaves are used to wrap bidis, a popular smoke among the locals. The states producing bidi leaves in India comprises mainly Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Maharastra.
Odisha is the third-largest producer of kendu leaf, after Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The districts where kendu leaves are grown the most are Sundergarh, Anugul, Deogarh, Kalahandi, Keonjhar, Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Malkanagri, Nabarangpur, Koraput, Dhenkanal, Jharsuguda, Sambalpur, Baragarh, Bolangir, Sonepur, Boudh and Nuapada.
Of Odisha’s total forest revenue of Rs 868 million in 1990-2000, kendu leaves alone account for Rs 635 million. The annual production of bidi leaf in Odisha is around 4.5-5 lakh a quintal, which is about 20 per cent of the county’s annual production.
Kendu leaf is available in 50 sub-divisions in all 30 districts. It is a seasonal operation that involves huge number of labourers (both skilled and non-skilled), out of which as many as 754,631 kendu leaf pluckers in almost 800 phadis work in Odisha, according to official records.
The news of children working at kendu leaf collection centres often trickle in during April-May every year. Children are mostly engaged in plucking, drying, collecting, etc, according to sources. They are paid extremely low wages for the work.
The amount they earn is unknown as identity cards are rarely issued in their names; guidelines state that person aged less than 14 years cannot be engaged as worker. Those aged 14-18 can only be engaged in selected non-hazardous sector.
In such a scenario, the children are exploited. A worker without an identity card is deprived of benefits such as healthcare and compensation in case of accidental death and injury.
To free this sector from child labour, more stringent laws are needed. Parents and children need to be sensitised about child rights. Besides the child protection system viz. childline, district child protection unit, child welfare committee etc. would have to be more vigil and proactive in ensuring rights to children.
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