Patnaik announces package for kendu leaf pluckers, BJP says by-poll stunt
Bhubaneswar, Nov 23 (PTI) Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Wednesday announced a special package for the welfare of kendu leaf pluckers and other employees and demanded a complete withdrawal of GST on the collection of the leaf trade.
The opposition termed the move as another bid to "mislead" people ahead of the Padampur by-poll on December 5.
The package was announced a day after the ruling BJD criticised the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre over imposition of 18 per cent GST on kendu leaf trade.
Leader of Opposition Jay Narayan Mishra said the state government's move was aimed to "mislead" the people of Padampur. The state government earns Rs 200 crore per annum from kendu leaf trade while the poor people associated with the activities are denied any benefit, the senior BJP leader said.
"The state government stopped bonus to the kendu leaf pluckers for two years on the plea of COVID-19 pandemic," Mishra said.
BJP candidate in Padampur and BJP Krushak Morcha president, Pradip Purohit said: "After misleading people in crop insurance, drought input subsidy, now the government is trying to fool kendu leaf pluckers. The entire exercise aimed to gain votes in Padampur, but all its efforts will fail." While announcing the special package, Patnaik said it will benefit around eight lakh pluckers, binders and other seasonal staff associated with the kendu leaf trade.
The chief minister said that the Centre has imposed 18 per cent GST on kendu leaf business. "I had earlier requested the central government to remove it and I am again raising my demand to completely abolish GST from the business".
The package, he said, was announced after three rounds of discussion in the past week over various problems faced by the kendu leaf pluckers.
Kendu leaf is used to wrap bidis and is one of the most important non-wood forest products in the state. It is called the green gold of Odisha.
According to the special package, Rs 1,000 will be given to each kendu leaf plucker and Rs 1,500 to each seasonal staff and binder in the first phase. All kendu leaf pluckers and employees will be covered under Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana (BSKY), an official release issued by the chief minister’s office said.
The package also had provision for stipends for the offsprings of kendu leaf pluckers and other employees. Besides, meritorious students will be awarded at the district level.
The gratuity payment for kendu pluckers of a circle and leaf binders has been revised from seven days to 15 days. All pluckers will be issued identity cards, Patnaik said.
The kendu leaf pluckers belong to BPL families and Odisha government has always been working for their welfare and for other employees in the sector, he said "Odisha is the first state in the country to give bonus to kendu leaf pluckers. This policy has become a model for other states," he said.
BJD spokesperson Sasmit Patra attacked the BJP accusing it of "cheating" farmers across the country.
"You (BJP) cheated kendu leaf workers who are men and women mostly from the BPL families. When the GST was at five per cent on kendu leaf they had a decent living. But you (BJP) increased it to 18 per cent and impacted their source of earning. Isn't this cheating?" Patra said.
On the GST issue on kendu leaf, the Leader of Opposition asked the chief minister what prevented the state government to demand GST abolition at the GST Council Meeting. "Odisha has not made any such demand in the GST council meeting, but now sheds crocodile tears for the kendu leaf pluckers," Mishra said.
The BJP leader asked Patnaik to announce waiver of its 9 per cent share in the GST availed from the kendu leaf trade. "What about the Rs 200 crore package as demanded by the Odisha Kendu leaf Employees Association," he asked, adding that the government was deliberately not implementing the service condition of seasonal kedu leaf employees even as it made such announcement in 2013. PTI AAM KK AAM RG RG