| Beedi under fire
Hyderabad, Nov. 26: Karimnagar is choking on a smoke alarm. The poor man’s beedi, and the livelihoods of those who make it in countless sweatshops there, is under fire.
In the heat and dust of the Lok Sabha bypolls here on December 4, a law making it compulsory for beedi packs to feature an illustration of a skull as a way of warning buyers is fast turning into a smouldering campaign issue.
All parties in the fray, except the BJP, have campaigned for repealing the legislation, which comes into force from February next. The BJP-led NDA had piloted the Beedi Act, 2003, before it was passed in Parliament.
The Congress, Telengana Rashtriya Samiti and the Telugu Desam Party — part of the central government when the law was enacted — are doing everything to woo the three lakh beedi workers, mostly women and children, to their fold.
Congress candidate T. Jeevan Reddy implored his party’s high command and Union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss to reconsider implementation of the law.
Last Thursday, the issue reached Parliament, where TDP, Congress and TRS members asked for a repeal of the act, but Ramadoss rejected their pleas.
TRS chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao, whose resignation from the UPA coalition as well as his House seat necessitated a new election, is promising voters to get the mandatory health warning on beedi bundles “dropped permanently” in his campaign this time.
Leaders claim the new law will scorch the livelihood of 10 lakh beedi makers in the state. “Three lakh beedi makers live in Nizamabad and Karimnagar alone,” says Abdullah Hamdeen, president of the beedi workers’ forum.
These workers are paid an average of Rs 21 for rolling 1,000 beedis. It can take them three days to finish the job, which is often done in between other chores at home.
The Karimnagar countdown is not all about beedis, though. Unlike Tamil Nadu, where colour TVs came into the poll picture, this Andhra district has FM radio receivers, CD players and alarm clocks. The TRS is offering them all.
The Congress has been concentrating on knick-knacks, showering cricket bats and trinkets on women. The TDP has its staple promises — water taps for lanes, a community hall for each village, hospitals, schools and colleges.
On statehood for Telengana, the TRS is with the BJP. The Congress and TDP have been offering development within an integrated state.