A deluge of protests by Bidi Workers against 
Telangana Government – D.V. Krishna

An upsurge of protest of Bidi Workers is fast unfolding in 4 northern districts of Telangana (Viz: Nizamabad, Adilabad, Karimnagar and Medak) against the non-implementation of K.C.R.’s election promise of paying a special livelihood allowance of Rupees one thousand per month to all bidi workers presently working and those who had stopped working after their superannuation.
K.C.R and his party, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, had promised to pay each bidi worker in the state an amount of Rs. 1000/- per month, as a special Livelihood Allowance, if their party is elected to power. This promise was widely propagated through half page commercial advertisements in the daily newspapers. It was also propagated through advertisements in T.V. channels. Further, Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s Trade Union Wing (TRSKV) had published lakhs of pamphlets and distributed amongst the Bidi Workers. K.C.R. and other leaders of T.R.S. had reiterated this promise in umpteen election public meetings.
This helped sway seven lakh bidi workers and their family members to vote for T.R.S. candidates. As a result, TRS got all M.P. seats in 4 districts of Northern Telangana. It won all the Assembly seats in Nizamabad and Adilabad Districts. It won overwhelming majority seats in Karimnagar and Medak Districts also.
Even after coming to power, K.C.R. reiterated several times that he will stick to his promise and implement the livelihood allowance for bidi workers. But when state Budget was introduced in the Assembly, even a mention of this promise was avoided in Finance Minister’s budget speech. No allocation of funds was made for this purpose in the Budget. The Telangana Pragathisheela Bidi Workers Union, the largest union of Bidi Workers in Telangana, organized a Dharna of 2000 workers at Indira Park, Hyderabad on 18.11.2014, demanding immediate implementation of livelihood allowance to Bidi Workers.
When opposition members raised this issue in state Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council, Chief Minister K.C.R. explained that lists of Bidi workers in the state are being collected and as soon as they are received, the livelihood allowance will be implemented. Neither any specific period from whence this will be implemented is spelt out nor any funds are allocated in the finalized version of the Budget.
Collecting of `Bidi Workers lists’ is only a plea. When the Telangana Govt. could collect the total details of the whole population in one day in a survey, why should six months be insufficient to know the details of bidi workers? As a matter of fact, the details of over-whelming majority of Bidi Workers are with P.F. dept. They are readily available. The details of others can be collected from managements and verified by village Panchayats and Municipalities. Only because of bad intention is the Govt. evading and nothing else.
Understanding that this promise will not be implemented unless and until a big agitation is built up, lakhs of Bidi Workers, under the leadership of Telangana Pragathisheela Bidi Workers union affiliated to I.F.T.U., have taken to streets.
This movement of Bidi Workers started from Kammarpalli Mandal of Nizamabad District. Five thousand Women Bidi Workers took out a rally in Kammarpalli streets on 17.11.2014. They held a Dharna before the Tehsil office for hours together and gave a memorandum to the Tehsildar, which was addressed to the Chief Minister.
Then, this movement of Bidi Workers spread like wild fire from one Mandal to another first in Armoor division and then to other Revenue Divisions of the Nizamabad District. Within a short span of one and half month, more than 75 thousand Bidi Workers, marched in to streets in 24 mandals of the district. The move is still on. The number of workers participating in each Mandal, is ranging from 2000 to 8000.
Inspired by the struggle of their co-workers in Nizamabad District, bidi workers in Adilabad District, taken to the streets from 15th December onwards. Four thousand workers stormed the streets of Dilwarpur Mandal Headquarter. Then a rally and Dharna of 5 thousand workers was held in Sarangapur Mandal, while 4 thousand workers took to streets in Laxmanchanda Mandal, 3 thousand in Mamda, and 6 thousand workers in Kuntala in quick succession. In all, more than 20 thousand Bidi workers participated in the struggle.
Then this agitation of bidi workers, spread to Medak District. 6 thousand workers, from surrounding villages gathered and held a big rally and Dharna in Dubbak Mandal Headquarters on 29th December.
Then it was the turn of Karimnagar District. Near about 2 to 3 thousand workers took out rallies and held Dharnas in Korutla and Sircilla. Bidi workers of other Mandals in Karimnagar, Adilabad and Medak are preparing to jump into struggle. By now, the rallies and Dharnas have been held in more than 45 mandals. The number of participant workers has crossed one lakh.
The news of Bidi Workers’ agitation and their photos were first published in District editions of daily papers only. But now, they are being flashed in state pages and T.V. channels. K.C.R. and his cabinet colleagues, their M.L.As and M.Ps, are maintaining a conspiratorial silence. If they underestimate the anger of the Bidi workers and their families, it is only to their peril.
The Bidi workers’ agitation is unprecedented as to the number of participants and its spread. It is sustained. It is certain that it will further intensify and draw all other Bidi Workers into the fold of struggle. It is better for the TRS Government to at least now announce from whence its promise to bidi workers will be implemented.
There are good and valid reasons for the serious reaction, forthcoming and for the insistence on implementation of KCR’s promise. Firstly, the bidi factories are working only 3 to 4 days per a week and for rest of the days, they are closed. That means bidi workers are getting work only 3 to 4 days a week and earning only about half of their normal wage. Their earnings are far short of their minimum necessities. TRS party mentioned this very reason for announcing payment of special livelihood allowance. That is why the bidi workers have been awaiting the implementation of this promise with high hopes.
Secondly, Bidi workers won minimum wage enhancement to Rs. 130/- for rolling 1000 bidis (a day’s work) in 2010, after conducting a 32 days strike. The Kiran Kumar Reddy Government kept this wage hike GO (GOMs No.41) in abeyance, under pressure from the managements. This abeyance is continuing for the last two years, despite the strong demand from the unions to remove the abeyance. Immediately after the coming to power of KCR Govt. the Telangana Pragathisheela Bidi Workers Union represented to the Govt. to lift the abeyance and implement the enhanced wage rate of Rs. 130/- per 1000 bidis. While this G.O. provides for 21 paise D.A. rate per point rise in C.P.I. the managements are paying only 10 paise D.A. rate. This G.O. also provides for Rs. 100/- as time rate per day. That means, workers are entitled for Rs. 100/- per day for days on which management do not provide work. The workers are also angry with the KCR Govt. for not withdrawing the abeyance even after six months of its coming to power.
Bidi workers are also demanding measures from the Govt. to ensure that the managements supply sufficient quantity of tendu leaves per 1000 bidis, so that the workers need not pay for the shortage of leaves from their wages.
The women bidi workers are entitled to three months maternity leave with wages, in pursuance of Maternity Benefit Act. But the KCR Govt. which promised monetary help to all pregnant women, has not taken any step to implement even the legislative provisions.
There are several other issues facing the bidi workers. Several of them are not paid the agreed wages also, in the name of `Vardhi’ system. They are very much prone to T.B., Cancer and other diseases. But they are not taken care of. Contrary to high expectations of bidi workers K.C.R. Govt. did not care to ameliorate any of the problems of 7 lakh bidi workers in the state.
All these reasons have pushed the lakhs of women bidi workers into struggle. The non-implementation of the promise of livelihood allowance had acted as the last straw on the camel’s back.
The bidi workers in the state are making hectic preparations for large demonstrations in the District Head Quarters and for a mammoth rally at state capital, Hyderabad during the coming Budget Session, so as to force the Govt. to implement its promise of special livelihood allowance of Rs. 1000/- to all bidi workers.