Union Health Minister J. P. Nadda promised concerned members in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday that he would advise all States to ban spitting in public. He was reassuring several MPs led by K.T.S Tulsi, who expressed worry that “the great Indian spit” was causing many communicable diseases.
Yet, most municipal laws already prohibit spitting and prescribe penalties. Only, the provision is not enforced. The public attitude, the widespread culture of betel and tobacco chewing, and low priority keeps the practice going.
Delhi’s Municipal Corporation sanitary inspectors can levy fines for causing “insanitation”. As per the Municipal Corporation Act, the provision extends to anything from shopkeepers allowing trash to collect outside their establishments to individuals littering.
A North Delhi Municipal Corporation official says spitting does not get prosecuted due to lack of enforcement staff.
Municipal officials had included spitting as a separate offence in the draft Sanitation Bye-Laws, submitted to the Delhi Government in 2013, with a proposed Rs. 250 fine, but to no avail.
Anti-spitting drives have been regularly launched in Mumbai. Clean-up marshals from the private sector were appointed. On April 13, a fresh initiative was sanctioned by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). A total of 22 private agencies were authorised to appoint 720 'Clean-up Marshals' (CMs) with powers to impose fines of up to Rs. 1,000 at 778 identified places.
A similar effort begun in August 2007 was discontinued after complaints arose that the Marshals were corrupt. BMC earned Rs. 5 crore in 2014-15, with a matching amount going to the private agencies.
In Bihar, chewing is popular, but there is a law against spitting. When political veteran Lalu Prasad was in Gaya in June 2007 as Railway Minister, he could not stop himself. His indiscretion was immortalised on video and broadcast by news channels.
The Bihar Municipal Act 2007 makes it an offence, along with urinating or throwing garbage with a penalty of Rs. 200, but no one has been fined.
Odisha’s government offices try to fend off offenders with images of gods and goddesses on ceramic tiles placed in government offices. The Secretariat in Bhubaneswar also has divine images, but even some of these bear the tell-tale marks.
Uttar Pradesh has its famed Banarasi Paan culture, but not without the spitting problem. In Lucknow, Allahabad and Varanasi, some paan outlets are legendary. Azhar Bhai's Paan shop is noted by travel guide books and one shop in Allahabad is named after ‘Sophia Laurence’. At railway stations in the State, one can be fined anything between Rs. 100 and Rs. 200, but it is rarely implemented.
In the South, even the pre-independence Madras government enacted the Health Act, 1939, under which fine can still be levied. But the fine remains a pittance and is not enforced. Sanitary and health inspectors and any local health authority can fine those who spit.
Tamil Nadu enacted the Prohibition of Smoking and Spitting Act in 2002, but implementation has been poor as far as spitting is concerned.
The Karnataka Municipal Corporations (Amendment) Act, 2013 empowers the corporations to fine offenders Rs. 100 the first time and Rs. 200 subsequently.
Public spitting and nose-blowing were banned in Kerala through an order in 2006, based on a High Court directive, since it posed a health threat.
The 'Andhra Pradesh Prevention of Disfigurement of Open Places and Prohibition of Obscene and Objectionable and Advertisements Act, 1997' prohibits spitting but officials do not enforce it. In Telangana, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation can pull up violators under sanitation bye-laws and fine them Rs. 500 upwards.
West Bengal has the Prevention of Spitting in Public Place Act, 2003 with Rs. 200 fine, but it remains on paper. The Kolkata Metro uses the fine effectively.