1. What do you make of the government’s decision to provide an assistance of Rs 1 lakh each to tappers to sell neera or to take up an alternative profession?
The government has been giving this amount to individual tappers for a while, it’s just that they have now made a budgetary provision for the scheme called ‘Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana’. But there are not many takers for selling neera; most tappers have taken up alternative professions such as rearing of cows and goats.
2. Why are tappers not interested in the sale and production of neera?
As long as liquor is easily available in Bihar, despite prohibition, neera business will not work. Neera gets fermented and turns into toddy by 10 am and then police harass the tappers. People anyway want to drink toddy for a high, not for its nutritional value as in the case of neera, fresh palm or date extract.
3. You have tried selling neera before.
Yes, I was part of the Sitamarhi neera cooperative and by 2017, I got approval to sell neera in Sitamarhi, Samastipur, Saran and Gopalganj. I invested Rs 10 lakh and used to sell the drink in 250 ml plastic and glass bottles — Rs 30 for plastic bottles and Rs 40 for glass. I got a good response initially.
4. Why did you discontinue then?
Initially, the Covid crisis ruined my business and I ran into losses. But even otherwise, the clandestine sale of country liquor and poor quality IMFL affected my neera business. Individual tappers are moving away from neera primarily because there is no support from the government to market neera. The government doesn’t have a foolproof plan. If they are really serious about selling neera as a health drink, they should start units to package it.
5. Are your children interested in the neera business?
Not at all. Toddy sellers are seldom treated with respect. I had hoped to be a successful neera businessman. My children are doing well in their studies… hopefully, they’ll get into other fields, maybe an engineer or a successful entrepreneur.