Govt. backtracks on pictorial warnings

Appeasement of corporate lobbies, says Opposition

Updated - May 23, 2016 05:42 pm IST

Published - April 01, 2015 03:22 am IST - NEW DELHI

A Pictorial warning on a cigarette packet. Photo: Special Arrangement

A Pictorial warning on a cigarette packet. Photo: Special Arrangement

The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday asserted that there was “no change” in the commitment to curb the consumption of tobacco in all possible forms, even as it put in abeyance its earlier notification increasing the pictorial warnings from 40 per cent to 85 per cent on the packages of tobacco products from April 1.

The Congress and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) have described the Ministry’s decision — following a recommendation by a committee on subordinate legislation — as appeasement of “corporate lobbies”.

The Ministry’s explanation that it is merely following the committee’s recommendation to put the notification in abeyance as all stakeholders have not been consulted has also been dismissed. TMC leader Dinesh Trivedi told The Hindu that the committee does not have the power to make the government change the notification. “The committee has no power and no business to meddle in this. The government is bluffing, it shows their weakness. On the one hand, we have Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeting that by saying ‘no’ to tobacco, we lay the foundation of a healthy India, and then you have a party MP asking for evidence of cancer-tobacco link,” Mr. Trivedi said.

Congress leaders also criticised the Ministry's decision, with Milind Deora tweeting: “Sad day for India’s anti-tobacco crusaders (including my late father, whose PIL led to the smoking ban in public places) & cancer survivors.” Party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi alleged that the NDA government seemed to be openly lobbying for corporates.

On the back foot over party MP Dilipbhai Gandhi’s remark, asking for research to prove the correlation between cancer and tobacco, Union Environment and Forest Minister Prakash Javadekar said: “Do not listen to these things. Science is science. You cannot compromise on science.”

While the social media was abuzz with criticism, Monica Arora of the Voluntary Health Association of India said an earlier committee on subordinate legislation of the Rajya Sabha had recommended that pictorial warnings and rules against tobacco advertisement should be made stronger. “The committee, in 2013, observed that the pictorial warning needs to be 90 per cent. So all those earlier reports have not been reviewed when this committee made its recommendations,” Dr. Arora pointed out.

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