Malkangiri: Even as the state government spends crores of rupees to help pluckers of Kendu leaves, a minor forest produce (MFP) know as ‘green gold’, questions are being raised as to why the forest department encourages private agencies to procure the MFP in six Kendu leaf ranges of this district.
Earlier, Jeypore Kendu leaf forest division had launched an awareness drive through street plays, meetings, public address system and training programmes asking the pluckers to sell their produce at exclusive government-run procurement centres to avail a host of facilities offered by the government. However, the director of Orissa Forest Development Corporation (OFDC), in another order, opened the procurement process for private operators.
The order said a plucker, after selling 2000 leaves to government, can sell rest of his collection to any other agencies. The department would only ensure that the agencies pay Rs1.60 per each bundle of 40 leaves to the collectors. The private agencies can buy the leaves directly from the plucker after obtaining permit from the concerned panchayat samitis, it was learnt.
According to government schemes, a plucker gets Rs1.60 per each bundle while another Rs1.60 is added to this as bonus. Thus, the plucker gets a total of Rs3.20 for each bundle. Besides, they also get other benefits including Rs 200 every two years for gunny bags, Rs 100 every year for caps, Rs 120 in every two years for a pair of slippers, student scholarship up to Rs 35,000 for the children of registered pluckers, death benefits up to Rs 1 lakh to the kin of the deceased and medical insurance facility up to Rs 2 lakh and other accidental benefits.
On the other hand, the private firms offer Rs 4 to the pluckers against the government-announced price of Rs3.20 to lure them since the firms don’t have to offer the range of facilities offered by the government. Therefore, the Kendu leaf collectors stand to lose in the bargain, locals said.
When contacted, Jeypore Kendu leaf division DFO Ganeswar Behera said he has nothing to say about the government decision. He would only make sure that a leaf collector gets his due from the private firms. According to reports, more than 100 private agencies are set to plunder the valuable MFP greasing the palms of a few sarpanchs.
While the newly elected sarpanchs were expected to work for the betterment of Kendu leaf pluckers of their areas, their decision to allow the private firms to procure the leaves has surprised many, said locals. PNN