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Meet the beedi barons

Relationship between beedi trade and politics is as old as the business itself in India —dating back to 1910.

Written by Abantika Ghosh | Updated: April 13, 2015 5:55:35 am
Politicians with links to the tobacco trade are plenty. A look at some of the bigger ones. Politicians with links to the tobacco trade are plenty. A look at some of the bigger ones.

The deferment of a notification mandating that pictorial warnings cover 85% of the principal display area of tobacco packages may have catapulted it to prime time, but the relationship between beedi trade and politics is as old as the business itself in India —dating back to 1910. Politicians with links to the trade are plenty. A look at some of the bigger ones: Abantika Ghosh.

Praful Patel, NCP

1Beedi business: Ceejay Tobacco, with brands including Monkey Boy and No. 27. Turnover Rs 1,000 crore

Size: Employs about 50,000 people. “Can earn up to Rs 200 each day”

Business empire: Diversified, with the family now owning a minority stake in Ceejay. He “dissociated himself” years ago

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Political career: Elected thrice to the Lok Sabha, thrice to the Rajya Sabha, the Maharashtra leader has been a minister many times. He has also been a permanent special invitee to the Consultative Committee for the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Currently in the RS, he is a member, Committee on Industry, and House Committee

Stand on pictorial warnings: “No country has a harsher warning than India. There is no doubt all forms of tobacco are injurious to health… We have already banned smoking in public… that has caused many to move to chewing tobacco, which is more harmful. If one has to quit smoking, it is not a matter of 45% or 85%. It is about awareness. I was a smoker, I quit 25 years ago. We have already covered nearly half the pack. Size of the warning is an unnecessary debate”

S C Gupta, BJP

2Beedi business: Shyam Group of Companies, which manufactures Shyam Beedi. Turnover Rs 200-225 crore

Size: Employs about 10,000 beedi rollers. In tendu season, 30,000-50,000 leaf pluckers. “Workers paid on the basis of output”

Business empire: Diversified into cold storage, hotels, dairy, housing finance, detergent manufacturing

Political career: Two-time Allahabad MP from BJP, he has been a Member, Committee on Finance; and Member, Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Currently, Member, Committee on Subordinate Legislations (which is examining the notification of larger pictorial warnings) and Member, Standing Committee on Finance

Stand on pictorial warnings: “The present size is sufficiently large. The 85% rule is unreasonable. Beedis are a natural product. There is very little tobacco in a beedi… There is no medical evidence that beedis cause cancer. It is misinformation created by NGOs, a few doctors and the anti-beedi lobby”

Harvansh Rathore, BJP

3Beedi business: R C Rathore Company, producing Top Beedi. Turnover Rs 7-8 crore

Size: Employs about 400-500 people. A beedi roller gets “Rs 100 for a bundle of 1,000 sticks”

Business empire: Family says beedi business on a downward slope, they are now into agriculture

Political career: BJP MLA from Banda, MP. His father was a five-time MP from BJP

Stand on pictorial warnings: “This is my ancestral business, we have been in it for 75 years. Beedi is made from tendu leaves, and is 100% original, there is no scent, no adulteration. There is no harm in beedi. These days even women get cancer, and they do not smoke. How can you then say tobacco is harmful? The current 40% pictorial warning is enough”

Shailendra Jain, BJP

4Beedi business: Jain Beedi Udyog, K M Jain Tobacco Products Pvt Ltd, which produce Dholak Chaap Beedi. Turnover Rs 5-7 crore

Size: Employs more than 2,000 people, on salaries or contract. “Workers get Rs 100 plus for a bundle of 1,000 sticks”

Business empire: Diversified into media. Family runs Hindi newspaper Dainik Achran

Political career: Two-time MLA from Sagar, MP, associated with BJP for 20 years

Stand on pictorial warnings: “There is no doubt tobacco causes harm. But beedi is less harmful than cigarettes and chewing tobacco… It is all right if you make the warnings 40-50%, but no point making it larger. There are so many people whose employment is at stake.”

Shravan Patel, Congress

5Beedi business: Mohanlal Hargovinddas Company, which markets Sher Beedi. “Does not know” turnover

Size: “Doesn’t know the number of employees” as he is not “associated with firm”

Business empire: Sons have moved to printing, real estate

Political career: Former Cong MLA (elected five times) from MP; and one-time parliamentarian. Member of the parliamentary panel that looked into the stock market scam involving Harshad Mehta

Stand on pictorial warnings: “My family is one of the oldest families in the beedi business… I think smoking should be banned. Pictorial warnings should be more defined. I am in support of staunch measures against all tobacco products.”

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