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Beedi workers unions cry foul over Centre order HYDERABAD: Beedi workers unions in the State are up in arms again with the Supreme Court clearing the Central government law making it mandatory to display pictorial warnings on tobacco packs from May 31. Consequent to the implementation of Section 7 of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003, it will be compulsory to depict lungs for smoking forms of tobacco packages and scorpion for chewing and smokeless forms. Ticklish issue Though the unions agree that the latest pictorial warning was not as harsh as the skull and cross bones as originally proposed, they have demanded that the Centre should first pay attention to the rehabilitation of lakhs of workers, particularly the women, who would be displaced. They wondered why the beedi industry alone should be targeted when chewing gutkha and consuming alcohol was much more dangerous for human life. The unions also accused the Centre of succumbing to pressure from the powerful cigarette manufacturers lobby particularly the mini-cigarette makers, raising a question mark over the fate of the beedi industry. There are over 10 lakh workers engaged in rolling beedis in Andhra Pradesh with over 6-lakh earning their livelihood in five districts of Telangana alone. Industry estimates put the production at 100 crore beedis per day in the State alone. Wages for rolling 1,000 beedis comes to Rs. 75. The Andhra Pradesh Beedi and Cigar Workers Union president Siddhi Ramulu said the law was anti-worker and intended at benefiting the multinational companies. Poshetty, president of the AP Beedi Workers Federation, which represents the interests of 16 unions in Telangana, charged that the government instead of implementing laws concerning the minimum wages and welfare schemes for the workers was serious about implementing the pictorial warning. Death blow M. Sirajuddin, president of All-India Beedi, Cigarette and Tobacco Workers Federation said the direction would cripple the beedi industry. Women who formed the bulk of the beedi workers were already feeling the pinch of insecurity said S. Rama, general secretary of AP Beedi and Cigar Workers Union. Two women beedi workers had already ended their lives in Nizamabad and Medak district, perturbed over their future.

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