COTPA Amendment To Hit Livelihood Of Women Working In Beedi Industry: Study

A Study on Lack of Alternative Employment for Women Beedi Rollers points how the existing anti-tobacco legislations have already impacted the livelihood of people working in the industry

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The proposed amendments to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) will adversely affect the livelihood of million of women engaged in beedi manufacturing, said a report by A Study on Lack of Alternative Employment for Women Beedi Rollers released in December 2021.

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The beedi industry which began in the early 1900s is India’s fourth largest employment provider. The manufacturing of beedis is extremely labour intensive and this is done manually mostly by women and children.

The sector is currently struggling hard to keep the industry afloat. “Amendments are being proposed to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA). If passed, it will adversely affect the livelihood of million of women engaged in beedi production. Existing anti-tobacco legislations today have already led to a decline in the beedi industry. So, It is extremely important to provide alternative livelihood on a large scale to women beedi workers. Without providing an alternative opportunity, further amendments to the COTPA will put the industry on the brink of complete obliteration resulting in massive unemployment and socio-economic ramifications,” said  Arjun Khanna, joint secretary of All India Beedi Industry Federation.

With the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in July 2017, the government has moved from levying a nominal tax (central excise and VAT in some states) to now charging a tax rate of 28 per cent (highest GST slab) as it deemed beedis to be demerit good.

The impact of this policy forced people to move from the organized sector to the unorganized sector, adversely affecting the employment and income of beedi workers. Moving to the unorganized sector, saw women workers being deprived of getting minimum wages and other benefits like, contribution to provident fund, paid leaves etc. “In addition to low wages, the amount of work each worker gets has declined creating a sense of insecurity among them. Workers from various parts of the country are of the view that they just continue in this industry since they have no alternative options. Several studies also disclose how workers are fed up with beedi rolling and have shown willingness to change their occupation if provided with alternative livelihoods,” said Dr Ashwani Mahajan, co-convenor of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch.