10-year ban on extraction of tendu leaves for beedis

A wikipedia image showing extraction of tendu leaves used to wrap beedis by a tribal woman in the forests of Chhattisgarh.

The state government has enforced a complete ban on extraction of ‘tendu leaves’ from its forests, especially in the Bidar district of Hyderabad-Karnataka region for 10 years.

Used to wrap beedis — the poorman’s cigarette — the tendu leaves are in great demand in Karnataka, Telangana and Maharashtra. Shocked by the alarming drop in the number of trees owing to unscientific plucking of leaves, the government last week ordered a 10-year ban as recommended by the Forest department.

Tendu leaves, obtained from Tupra trees, are hailed as the finest quality leaves to wrap tobacco, to form beedis. Even though several forest areas across Karnataka are interspersed with Tupra trees (Diospyros melanoxylon), they are one of the few dominant tree species of Hyderabad-Karnataka region. Bidar has the highest number of these tree species and extraction of leaves is said to be a major industry with the supply chain stretching all over Telangana, Maharashtra and parts of Karnataka.

Unscientificd plucking

Brijesh Kumar Dikshit, additional principal chief conservator of forests (forest resource management) told DH that the extraction process of these leaves was faulty.

“I had visited a couple of forest areas in the region and it appeared that contractors had resorted to felling of trees or cutting of branches to collect the leaves. This had a cascading effect on the life of the tree and there was no possibility of regeneration of the tree. Hence, we recommended the ban,” Dikshit said.

Bidar alone used to contribute an annual revenue of Rs 20 lakh by way of extraction of the leaves. But the unscientific pruning and large-scale destruction had brought down the revenue to just Rs 5 lakh in recent times. According to officials, the fresh leaves are produced by suckers coming out of the soil.

Damage to trees

The contractors, to enhance the growth of the leaves, set fire to the bottom of the tree, thereby damaging them. M D Todurkar, deputy conservator of forests, Bidar, said, “The extent of the damage was such that there were hardly any seed-bearing trees in the vicinity. In the 46,000 acres of forest in the region, these trees are the major species. The extraction would begin from January. By April, the plants would have been completely damaged. We wanted to bring in the ban before the extraction season this time.”

Even though the Forest department recommended just a five-year ban, the government went a step ahead and ordered a 10-year ban on the extraction of leaves, aimed at conserving the species for future generations. “The ban period extends from 2018 to 2027, with immediate effect,” the order, a copy of which is with DH, said.

For over 50 years, the forests of Bidar had constantly supplied the leaves to prominent beedi industries in Telangana, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Tupra trees are native to India and Sri Lanka and found extensively in forest areas. Dried in sun for over a week, the leaves, having a anti-microbial property, make excellent wrappers.

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