The Odisha government, on Saturday, urged the Centre to take steps for withdrawal of Goods and Services Tax (GST) on Kendu leaves for the larger interest of around eight lakh families engaged in plucking and binding of kendu leaves.
The request was made by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik in a letter he wrote to Union Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
“Kendu leaf, a Minor Forest Produce (MFP), is the financial backbone of about 8 lakhs Kendu leaf pluckers, binders and seasonal workers of Odisha who mostly belong to the tribal community and poorest of the poor of the society”, Patnaik wrote.
The tribal people collect the leaves as part of their right defined under Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006. They have the right to procure and sell these products, stated the Chief Minister.
“Imposition of GST (18%) on Kendu (Tendu) leaves is adversely affecting the Kendu leaves trade. This in turn affects the livelihoods of the Kendu leaf pluckers, binders and seasonal workers and implementation of social security and welfare schemes for them,” stated Patnaik.
“In the interest of livelihoods of the Kendu leaves dependent community, it is urged upon to withdraw the imposition of GST on Kendu leaves for the greater interest of the State of Odisha,” he concluded.
Earlier, the government used to make a provision of Rs 240 crore for payment of bonus to pluckers, and binders involved in the kendu leaf trade for the 2022 crop year.
The government had recently announced that each of the plucker and seasonal staff will receive Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,500 allowance respectively.
Kendu leaf is the financial lifeline of the tribal and poor people of Odisha. The kendu leaf, used for rolling bidis, constitutes the sizable parts of the forest department’s revenue in the State. Its kendu leaf division procures the leaves from the forest dwellers in exchange for collection wages and the Odisha Forest Development Corporation (OFDC) sells them to contractors through tenders.
Odisha is the second important kendu leaves producing State in India producing more than 20 per cent of the total kendu leaves produced in the whole country. Kendu leaves are collected in 23 out of 30 revenue Districts of the State, said officials.