In Bikaner, Bhujia turns the election sour for the BJP

A. M. Jigeesh | | Updated on: Dec 06, 2021

Nationalism fervour has only thinly healed the scars left by GST and demonetisation on an age-old cottage industry in Bikaner

The BJP’s bid to recover the lost ground in Rajasthan is challenged here by the famed Bikaneri Bhujia-makers who have not forgiven the BJP for the twin onslaughts of GST and demonetisation.

The measures hit the age-old cottage industry that provides jobs to an estimated 3.5 lakh people in this district.

A number of industry insiders in Bikaner told BusinessLine the Bhujia trade, which forms the backbone of economic activity in these parts, has been suffering structural issues over the years and was hit hard by the Centre’s policies in the last five years.

According to Makhan Lal Agarwal, secretary of Papad-Bhujia Manufacturers Association in Bikaner city, demonetisation and GST resulted in closure of several units and at least 10 per cent workers lost job.

Bhujia and papad manufacturing, which is worth about ₹3,000 crore a year, provides direct jobs to about 3.5 lakh people in the district. Of this, two lakh are women.  The farmers in the area also grow pulses such as black gram, moth bean and mung bean to cater to the  industry. The industry also consumes about three lakh litres of milk to make rasgullas and milk for this is sourced from cattle farmers in Bikaner.

A kilo of bhujia fetches ₹150 on an average, while papad gets ₹125 a kilo. Women in the area make at least ₹150-200 a day by spending three to four hours in making papads. The products have received Geographical Indication tag after efforts by the manufacturers association.

‘A conspiracy’

“Different governments over the years have tried to kill this industry. There is a conspiracy to mechanise the entire process so that it helps the multinationals in claiming the process’ patent,” Agarwal said.

He said due to lack of infrastructure, the industries able to fulfil just 10 per cent of the market demand. “There are no laboratories to test our products here. We have to send our products to Mumbai or Delhi for mandatory tests. This place has great capability to become a food processing hub. But the promises made by political parties have remained as promises,” Agarwal said.

Animal husbandry

Besides the traders and makers of Bhujia, farmers also have stories of distress to share. Animal husbandry is becoming a loss-making venture as farmers get just ₹14 per litre when the cost of production is at least ₹20 for a litre of milk.

“The power tariff has tripled in the last five years. The price of fertilizers, pesticides and other components have increased. But the rate of the product remains the same. Farmers have been agitating against the government for increasing the MSP of pulses used in bhujia industry,” said CPI(M)’s candidate in Bikaner and farmers’ leader Shopatram Meghwal.

Makhan Lal Agarwal’s colleague and joint secretary of Bikaner Chamber of Commerce Vinod Bhojak said: “The BJP had so many chances in the last five years to fulfil that promise of a dry port in the area. We met Arjun Ram Meghwa (local MP) several times with representations. Our demand for more flights from the airport here was also not heard despite our promise that we will fill 10 per cent of the seats in each flight,” Bhojak said.

However, the local leadership of the BJP said elections are seldom fought on real issues and the people will vote to re-elect Narendra Modi because of his popularity. “Elections are not won on people’s issues. Bikaner has many problems which can easily be solved. But the BJP can win this seat with just one name — PM Narendra Modi,” said the Chamber’s Vice-President Vishnu Puri,  also a local leader of the BJP.


For the latest on elections: Elections 2019

Published on April 30, 2019
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