Toddy tapping dying in Goa

 The toddy tappers (locally known as rendeirs) have been the main force behind the distillation of coconut feni in the state for ages but according to the excise officials and the association of toddy tappers over the last few decades their numbers along with the making of coconut feni has declined that from over 22,000 at the time of Liberation only around 700 are carrying out the traditional activity at present.

According to Mr Gaspar Afonso, the president of All Goa toddy Tapers Association, Salcete itself had around 12,000 toddy tappers at the time of Liberation whose number has dwindled down to a few hundreds now and if the present trend continued the traditional activity of the toddy tappers, which has mostly been hereditary, would cease to exist after the present generation stop working or after their death.

Mr Afonso also said that with hardly any incentives to those engaged in the vocation and the risk involved in it most people decided to give up the profession and moved to some other activity. Besides, the younger generation, who got educated, also did not take up the profession that had been hereditary till after independence and chose to take up other activities.

The toddy tappers who were once ubiquitous in the state, especially along the coastal areas, are now difficult to be found even in areas where they were found climbing the coconut trees simultaneously. With great difficulty The Navhind Times could locate a few of them.

With no help or assistance coming in the form insurance cover or subsidies etc the age-old traditions of Goans is sure to die a natural death thereby depriving Goans and others the liquor that had kept them in high spirits.

The toddy tappers association chief also said that unlike other traditional activities of the Goans like fishing, those involved in toddy tapping and coconut feni distillation do not enjoy the benefit of government subsidies besides their life is always at risk with no insurance cover. The toddy tappers themselves contribute 50 paise per tree to their welfare fund and matching amount is contributed by the government, he added.

He further stated that the toddy tappers are given a compensation of
` 75,000 by the Toddy Tapers Welfare Fund Board in case of death of toddy taper due to accidental fall. The amount was `50,000 till a little over a year ago, he said adding that those suffering permanent disability due to accidents are now paid an amount of `50,000, which was earlier `30,000.

Besides, there is another facility for the rendeirs who suffer temporary disability for more than 14 days. Those with temporary disability are paid `103 per day during the time of the disability. There is no benefit to those who die natural death and the families have to fend for themselves.

He informed that rendeirs had to fight to get other backward classes status for them and the battle was fought for nine years. Other than that there is no other government-run benefit to those carrying out traditional occupation, which is dying.

Stating that the toddy tappers also have to pay `2.10 for each tree from which the toddy is tapped to the landlord or the owner of the coconut tree besides they also have to pay the licence fee for put up distillation plant, said Mr Afonso, adding that with the fall in toddy collection the distillation of feni has been reduced drastically and making coconut feni was now no more viable.

The number of tree being tapped for toddy has also dwindled from nearly a lakh at Liberation to around 9,600 till last year and the number of trees being tapped is expected to go down further as many in tradition have been giving up the profession, some fearing insecurity and others due to old age.

He also said that one of the toddy tappers, Socorro Cardozo of Assolna, died due to fall from a tree over a year a go and he was yet to be given any compensation. The matter was before the authorities for award, he added.

The excise department through which the scheme for the benefit of toddy tappers was being implemented informed that over the last five years 25 compensation applications were accepted and the applicants were given compensation to the tune of over `5.08 lakh (13 temporary and 13 permanent disabilities). Two cases of death were among those considered, the excise officials informed. [NT]