Beedi industry in India employs nearly 6.4 million workers in a predominantly unorganized sector comprising mostly home-based women from poor households. These women beedi workers are vulnerable due to low wage rate, hazardous work environment, systemic exploitation, precarious employment, lack of social security and limited access to various welfare schemes. However, their aspiration to shift to safer and more rewarding alternative livelihoods is met with many obstacles such as: low education level, inadequate skill adaptability, credit availability and lack of in-demand vocational training, etc. A majority of these obstacles can be attributed to lacunae in research on the subject (e.g., data, knowledge and policy, etc.). This report made an honest attempt to analyse policies, existing programs (including, but not limited to, their impact at both national and state levels) and related initiatives by different institutions on the alternative livelihood options for women beedi rollers in India to identify knowledge and policy gaps through a critical review of the existing literature.
The following key research findings of this report include:
Participation of women in beedi rolling: While about 96% (4276,124) of the total beedi workers (44, 60,076) are home-based, only 4% (1, 83,952) work in factories. Women constitute 84% of the home-based workers.
Rural-Urban distribution of beedi rollers: It is estimated that about 80% of home-based beedi workers live in rural areas, 20% live in urban areas.
Increase in the number of beedi workers: The number of beedi workers decreased from 4.47 million in 1993-94 to 4.27 million in Feb 1997, but increased to about 4.8 million in 2018. This shows that there is an overall increase of beedi workers by 1.5-2.1 million during 1993 - 2018.
Discrepancies in reported data: Significant discrepancies are observed in the data on beedi workers. For example, number of registered workers reported in July 2019 was 5.59 million, but was reported as 4.98 million in December 2019.
Top four cities with most beedi workers: The highest number of beedi workers are registered in Kolkata (16, 58,000), Jabalpur (10, 55,000), Allahabad (4, 50,000) and Hyderabad (4, 13,000).
An underestimated beedi workforce: Reported number of beedi workers is underestimated as: (i) some LWO regions record workers from multiple states (e.g., the Nagpur LWO in Maharashtra records beedi workers from Goa, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli); (ii) some home-based beedi workers are not registered with any LWOs.
Decline in number of beedi workers in the southern states: The number of beedi workers has significantly decreased in the southern states of Tamil Nadu (541,000), Andhra Pradesh/Telangana (187,000) and Karnataka (116,500). Such a decrease raises some vital questions: (1) whether government policy interventions have helped these states for the decline? (2) are there any other factors for this trend? (3) what happened to the workers after they left the beedi industry? Answers to these questions may have policy implications for these states and other regions in India as well.
State and district-wise trends of women beedi rollers: The top five LWO regions with highest number of women beedi workers in 2018 were Kolkata (12,95, 000), Jabalpur (4,22,000), Hyderabad (3,72,000), Allahabad (3,60,000) and Bangalore (2,13,000). The highest ratio of women beedi workers are found in Kannur (94%) and Tirunelveli (93%), in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, respectively. Highest share of women in the total beedi workforce is found in Andhra Pradesh (95%), Karnataka (91%), Tamil Nadu (84%) and West Bengal (84%). Similarly, the highest number of workers live in Murshidabad (West Bengal), followed by Tirunelveli (Tamil Nadu), Maldah (West Bengal), Karimnagar (Andhra Pradesh), Nizamabad (Andhra Pradesh) and Dakshina Kannada (Karnataka).
Caste, religion and education of women beedi rollers: While over 30% of women workers are Hindus, 28% and 20% belong to Islam and Christianity, respectively. It is noted that the combined share of women beedi workers recognizing them with Islam and Christianity is nearly 50%, which is higher than their demographic ratios in India. Other Backward Classes (37%) comprise the largest number of women beedi workers in the social grouping categories.
Beedi consumption and taxation: Domestic consumption of beedi was 260 billion sticks (10.4 billion packets) in 2017-18, which was worth is Rs. 156 billion and earned government revenue of Rs. 25 billion. The average monthly expenditure on beedi