The district is well known for its beedi industry. The Mangalore beedies are famous for their smart structures and tasty blend of tobacco dust. It is a common sight to see workers squatting and moving their fingers in a set pattern rolling beedies and chatting and sometimes singing. It is one of the important cottage-type industries extensively prevalent in various parts of the district. The organization of this industry is unique in the sense that the beedi-rolling work is being done by a few thousands of people of either sex, both in the rural and the urban areas, who do the work on piece-rate basis getting all the raw materials from authorized agents of the leading beedi concerns. A large number of people, particularly women, find it a good source of income and an easy and convenient pastime. The important centres of this industry are Mangalore, Bantwal, Panemangalore, Gurpur, Bajpe, Kinnigoli, Mulki, Haleangady, Ullal, Karkal and Udupi. There are about 35 prominent factories in this district, leading ones among them being located in Mangalore. These factories are linked with a network of branches and contractors in different places of the district.
It is estimated that about 70,000 workers live by rolling beedies in this district. As it has been a paying occupation, it has attracted boys, adults and women-folk alike in large numbers. Of the total number of workers, about a thousand get the benefit of the Factories Act and other labour legislations. The rest are “out-door workers” who take tobacco and beedi leaves to their homes for making beedies.
The beedi leaves, tobacco dust and yarn are the raw materials required for this industry. The beedi leaves are imported on a large scale by the principal factories and other wholesale dealers from Raipur (Madhya Pradesh), Kerala, Shimoga, etc. Tobacco dust is mainly imported from Sangli, Kolhapur, Jaisingapore and Nippani. To a small extent, tobacco is also grown in South Kanara district and according to recent estimate; the total area under tobacco cultivation is 173 acres out of which Puttur taluk alone has 128 acres. Beedi leaves are cut into rectangular pieces and then rolled with tobacco dust into beedies. There are superior and inferior qualities of beedi leaves. Leaves having slight blackish colour are classified as inferior as the beedies prepared out of these leaves do not give an attractive appearance to the consumers.
The working conditions of the beedi workers in this district are different form those in other districts of Mysore State. Workers, who are engaged in the manufacture of beedies, get beedi leaves and tobacco from contractors and out of these raw materials they prepare beedies and get a piece-wage of Rs. 2.50 to Rs. 4.30 per thousand beedies. The contractual obligation in this respect is oral and no written agreement is entered into. The raw materials are given to the out-door workers on trust and long-standing relationship. In recent years, relationship between the workers and the contractors has not been very cordial and many hitches are arising.
Though beedi industry is one of the important industries in this region, it is a major hazardous job. Gradually it may lead to fatal diseases like cancer.