ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Forest Rights Act and Kendu Leaf Trade in Odisha

One of the main objectives of nationalisation was the elimination of private traders from the kendu leaf trade in order to reduce the exploitation of the pluckers. Unfortunately, things have not changed much for the primary collectors since the only difference is that the state has replaced the private traders. Tribal and other traditional forest dwellers are already involved in all practicalities of the kendu leaf trade. Given an opportunity, they will prove that they are second to none.

I am grateful to Chitta Ranjan Pani for providing me with some of the data used in this article. I thank Y Giri Rao and Tushar Dash for their intellectual inputs.

The history of the kendu leaf1 during the pre-Independence era as an important source of livelihood for the marginalised sections in Odisha is obscure. Most of the kendu leaf producing areas in the state belonged to some of the erstwhile princely regimes (like the Garjats) of western Orissa. The feudal rulers earned a lot of income from the monopoly over this item. After the merger of these states in 1948-49, the Orissa government gradually established its statewide control over kendu leaf in phases, but the procurement and trade remained practically under the control of private traders who used to bribe bureaucrats and politicians in power in order to continue being in control (Rath 2006). In 1952, the socialist leader, Sarangadhar Das, in his book Roupya Patra (silver leaf) highlighted the scope of employment in the working and financial out-turn of this item.

Kendu leaf, an economic non-timber forest product (NTFP), is of paramount importance to the livelihoods of the poor and marginalised forest dependent communities, including tribals. It provides immense employment opportunities for millions of poor belonging to the tribal, dalit and other backward communities, including landless ones. Most importantly kendu leaves provide employment in the lean period of summer, when the opportunity for wage earning is minimal. Kendu leaf plucking is carried out over six lakh hectares with Bolangir, Angul, Sambalpur, Sundargarh, Koraput, Kandhamal, Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj being the major kendu leaf-producing districts in Odisha. A government report claims that the operation creates 30 million man-days within three to four months. Around 8,000 phadi2 (collection centres) are operational in the state where the procurement and processing of leaves takes place. About five lakh quintals of these leaves are produced annually in the state, most of which are in the processed form, i e, graded into different qualities (Pani 2011).

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