Poonam Singh

Bhubaneswar: Around eight lakh people were provided employment during the lockdown by Odisha government through Kendu leaf operations, official sources said on Wednesday.

The kendu leaf operation during adverse weather conditions in February and March along with COVID-19 lockdowns are set to generate a trade surplus of Rs 100 crore, said Chief Secretary A K Tripathy.

Tripathy said this after the state level coordination meeting to discuss the kendu leaf trade operation. He directed the department of Forest and Environment to undertake more bush cutting in convergence with MGNREGS.

"Investing more in bush cutting will yield more production and procurement. It will also help in quality production of 'processed leaves' for which Odisha is known," Tripathy said.

Around eight lakh people were provided employment through kendu leaf operations during the lockdown, a Forest department official said.

The state government had allowed kendu leaf collection during the second phase of COVID-19 lockdown.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Kendu Leaf) Pravakara Behera said, "More than 60 lakh person days were created during the current year in the works like bush cutting, procurement of leaves, phadi repairing, leaf drying and storage, processing, binding, bagging and transportation".

A total number of 7,54,631 leaf pluckers and 18,223 binders were engaged in the work of whom nearly 80 per cent were women, Behera said, adding that 16,533 seasonal staff were engaged in the operations.

Bush cutting was done in 5.37 lakh hectares and around 7176 phadies in different places were also repaired and maintained directly through the villagers, he said.

Additional Chief Secretary, Forest and Environment Department Mona Sharma said that procurement of kendu leaves was taken up during April-May and near about 2 lakh quintals of leaves of worth about Rs 119.57 crore were procured from the pluckers. The cost of the leaves was directly disbursed to the bank account of the pluckers, she said.

During the season, each individual member of a plucker family earned around Rs 1585 only from the plucking. Dr Sharma said, adding that the total sale value of the leaves procured during 2019 was around Rs 377 crore against which the sale value till end of November this year has reached Rs 321 crore.

As of now, around 50,000 quintals of leaf are in process for sale which is expected to yield around Rs 100 crore at the current trend, said Behera.

He appraised the meeting that the investment against the operations till the end of November was around Rs 266 crore which might increase by another Rs 50 crore at the trade closing. The entire operation might yield the trade surplus of near about Rs 100 crore, he said.

(With PTI Inputs)