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Trades of a Town: Tendu Patta


Madhya Pradesh is India’s leading tendu leaf producing state. Used primarily to make Beedi , this valuable forest produce has a history of control and ownership over the years. Piyush Kothari (63), a local tendu merchant based in Pipariya, talks about the changes in the trade and how the town’s proximity to nearby forest tracts made it suitable for the early traders. Excerpts from our recorded conversation (December 2017):   

“In the early 1930’s, my father left Gujarat for Bombay to work as a contractor of tendu leaves. Soon, he learnt about the prospects of tendu trade in Madhya Pradesh. In mid 1930’s, he shifted to Pipariya, Madhya Pradesh, to work as a tendu contractor. Pipariya was close to the nearby forests of Hoshangabad and Chhindwara. In those days, the tendu trade was yet to be nationalised by the government. The forest land was mostly under the territory of the forest department and to an extent, the local kings. Though there were no stringent rules and impositions, the contractors were supposed to abide by the laws laid out by the kings. The contractors used to buy whole tracts of forests on lease (from the forest department) and then commission the local tribal collectors to pluck the tendu leaves from the forest. The collectors, in turn, submitted bundles of plucked leaves in return of basic wages. The leaves were then processed and sent to state run godowns from where they were bought by the beedi manufacturers. Once the government took over the tendu trade in early 1960’s, the revenue started to increase. The move was directed, among other reasons, to prevent the contractors from under-reporting the collection and benefit the collectors and the government. It is debatable that how much the tribal collectors benefitted from it. But tendu has increasingly become one of the mainstays of the economy of Madhya Pradesh.”

Linguistic translation

Tendu: Diospyros melanoxylon

Beedi : Tobacco rolled in dried leaves

Credits / copyrights

Image Credits: The Fourth Mirror

Centre for Community Knowledge, Ambedkar University Delhi
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