Hyderabad: Senior Congress leader and former Leader of Opposition in Telangana Legislative Council Mohammed Ali Shabbir has assured Beedi workers that his party would provide all required assistance to protect their livelihood, health and survival.
As part of 'Haath Se Haath Jodo' Abhiyan, Shabbir Ali interacted with Beedi workers, thekedars, and others at Kamareddy District Congress Committee office on Sunday.
Shabbir Ali said nearly seven lakh workers were employed by 14 major Beedi industries in Telangana State. However, he said that the BJP government at the Centre and BRS government in the State did nothing to eradicate poverty among Beedi workers or address their health concerns.
Referring to a recent study on Beedi workers of Telangana, he said the workers were getting low wages, facing exploitation by middlemen and they have no social security. He said lakhs of workers were forced to continue with the Beedi industry as they do not have any alternative means of livelihood.
Shabbir Ali said the workers, mainly women, were dependent on Beedi rolling for their livelihood. He said most of the Beedi workers were suffering from serious health problems. However, he said they have no access to medical facilities. At least there is no ESI hospital for Beedi workers anywhere in the country, including Kamareddy.
Congress leader slammed the BJP government at the Centre for imposing 28 percent GST on the Beedi industry. He said that the move was intended for crippling the entire industry although it employs lakhs of people.
He said the Modi government was proposing to enact a new law to shut down the Beedi industry. He alleged that the Modi government was targeting the poor Beedi workers in the name of discouraging tobacco. He asked why BJP and BRS governments were not discouraging the consumption of cigarettes and liquor in the same manner.
"During Bharat Jodo Yatra, Rahul Gandhi had a detailed interaction with the Beedi workers to understand their problems. He had promised that the next Congress government will remove the GST from the Beedi industry," he said adding that the next Congress government would also assure a better future for the children of Beedi workers.
Shabbir Ali said Beedi workers work hard for nearly 19 hours hour every day to earn their livelihood. He said despite so much hard work, most of them do not even get a proper meal every day. He said a majority of Beedi workers are suffering from health problems like anemia, nervous weakness, cancer, tuberculosis, and respiratory diseases. However, the BJP and BRS governments are doing nothing to address these issues, he alleged.
He said that the central government collects about Rs. 100 crore annually from the Beedi industry in Telangana in the form of a cess, but there are no schemes to help the workers. He demanded that the Center fix proper wages for the Beedi workers and provide PF cards to all workers attached to the Beedi industry.
Shabbir Ali said the Minimum Wages Act should be implemented and the wages of Beedi workers should be increased. Central and state governments should take steps to ensure that Beedi workers get employment for at least 25 days a month, he demanded.
Shabbir Ali said under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, houses should be built for all Beedi workers and one ESI hospital should be built in every Mandal in the Beedi zones. Health cards should be given to all Beedi workers. Health camps should be organized for all Beedi workers in every Beedi factory once a month, he said.
On this occasion, many Beedi workers spoke about their problems. They complained that their lives were ruined after KCR became the Chief Minister. They said that the BRS government has encouraged liquor consumption to the extent that many men were wasting most of their earnings on alcohol and also falling sick.
Kamareddy DCC President Kailasa Srinivasa Rao, Youth Congress leader Mohammed Ilyas, Chandrakant Reddy, Pandla Raju, Anwar Ahmed, S Godigula Srinivas, P. Ravi Prasad, Mohammed Sheru, Sudarshan and other Congress leaders and activists participated in the meeting.