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Health status: Apoorva (centre), Special Secretary, Health Department, launches a report on the status of bidi workers at a function organised by the Tamil Nadu Voluntary Health Association in Chennai on Thursday. E.Vidhubala (right), head of the Department of Psycho-oncology, Adyar Cancer Institute, and V. Gajalakshmi, director of Epidemiology Research Centre, are in the picture.
CHENNAI: The task before the Tamil Nadu government in the current year is to map the disease pattern in the State, and create awareness programmes for various segments of workers employed in leather tanneries, bidi rolling units and cotton mills, said speakers at a meeting here on Thursday.
Senior officials of the Health Department, Social Welfare Department and representatives from organisations such as the Adyar Cancer Institute and the Epidemiology Research Centre, discussed methods to improve the health and life of bidi workers in the cottage industry in the State.
Participating in a programme organised by Tamil Nadu Voluntary Health Association, representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) cited several studies and surveys that revealed that those working in the bidi rolling units wanted to opt out of the industry because of the health hazards.
The NGOs advocated pictorial warnings of skull and bones on bidi packets also.
In order to improve the health and life of women working in the unorganised bidi rolling sector, it is important to empower the women and the men, said E. Vidhubala, head of the Department of Psycho-oncology, Adyar Cancer Institute.
The conditions of bidi rollers in the cottage industry segment were a cause for concern, she said. Of the around 4.4 million employees engaged in the industry, two-thirds were home-based and one per cent (about 2.25 lakh) of those employed were children. Lack of legal regulations for the cottage industry and poor education of the women meant that they continued the occupation and did not protest the injustice meted out to them, she said.
The bidi workers suffered from a range of respiratory problems, including chronic bronchitis, pain and cramps in the shoulders, neck, back and lower abdomen. Children dropped out of school and worked long hours.
With less than half of the bidis produced being taxed and the workers being cheated of their pay in the pretext that many of the bidis rolled were below quality, there was urgent need to create awareness about the rights of bidi workers, she said.
V. Gajalakshmi, director of Epidemiology Research Centre, said that the risks of cigarette smoke were well known but bidi smoking also led to cancers of the oral cavity, lungs, oesophagus and stomach.
She cited several studies done in India that established that bidi smokers were at an increased risk for cancers compared to non-smokers.
Apoorva, Special Secretary, Health Department, said that the State government would launch a programme to improve the living standards of those engaged in the bidi rolling units. She released a documentary film and a report on the status of bidi workers.
Salma, chairperson, Social Welfare Board, and UNICEF representative Thomas George, spoke.
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