Party wants meeting of stakeholders in a week

The Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council D.V. Sadananda Gowda, on Friday took serious exception to the government’s decision to ban gutka without taking steps to provide an alternative market to arecanut growers and demanded that the government allow sale of nicotine/tobacco-free variety of gutka in the interest of farmers on the lines of Tamil Nadu.

The party demanded that the notification regarding banning sale of gutka should be put on hold till an alternative mechanism was worked out to help arecanut farmers.

Addressing a press conference here, Mr. Gowda and the former Ministers Vishveshwara Hegde Kageri and Nagaraj Shetty – all of whom hail from the arecanut-growing belt of Dakshina Kannada and Uttara Kannada districts — pointed out that it was only the tobacco/nicotine content in the gutka that was harmful to health and the areca component was free from any health hazards.

Mr. Gowda said, with an annual production of 2.58 lakh tonnes, Karnataka was leading the country in arecanut production by accounting for 60 per cent of the national output. Nearly 50 per cent of the State’s areca production was being used for gutka-making. A total ban on gutka sales would be detrimental to about two crore people who are connected with arecanut production either directly or indirectly, he said. Within a day of the media reporting about the plans to ban gutka sale, the prices of arecanut had crashed by about Rs. 2,000 a quintal, he said and expressed fear that the prices would crash further threatening the livelihood of farmers.

Meeting sought

Accusing the government of unilaterally deciding to ban sales of all kinds of gutka without any legislature debate even when the legislature was in session, he demanded that Chief Minister Siddaramaiah should convene a meeting of areca farmers, elected representatives from the areca growing belt and experts to find out the ways and means of protecting the interests of farmers with respect to gutka ban within a week. He warned the BJP itself would convene a meeting of arecanut farmers to discuss the issue if the government failed to stick to the deadline.

Taking exception to Health Minister U.T. Khader deciding to ban gutka though he hails from the arecanut growing belt, Mr. Gowda remarked that: “Delivering a blow to arecanut farmers was the gift given by the Congress to the arecanut belt of coastal area and Uttara Kannada for rallying behind that party during the Assembly elections”.

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