Narendra Modi government said it will take a “measured and responsible” decision on the issue of increasing the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco in the backdrop of a controversy generated by BJP members of a parliamentary panel suggesting “nil” effects of smoking.
Union minister Arun Jaitley also made it clear that the decision of the government in the matter will not be based on the opinions of individuals.
His comments came amid reports that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had directed removal of the members with “conflicting interests” from the Committee of Subordinate Legislations examining the the provisions of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003.
However, Jaitley did not directly comment on the issue of removal of these members and said, “There is a system in the Parliament and it has also been written in the rules of procedures.”
“There is one opinion that it should be changed. This is in the hands of the Parliament, in the hands of the chair. It is not the issue concerning the government,” he said.
BJP MPs Dilip Gandhi, Shyam Charan Gupta, Ram Prasad Sarmah have claimed there is no clear proof yet linking cigarette puffing and cancer.
While Gandhi, who is the head of the parliamentary panel, had said that there was Indian study to show the link between tobacco usage and cancer, Gupta said he could produce a lot of people who are chain smokers of beedi and have had no disease till date.
Asserting that a “multi-pronged” approach to discourage tobacco use was needed, Jaitley said, “Individuals can give individual opinions, but government takes measured and responsible decisions.
“Therefore in the last two months and in my two budgets, I have certainly reflected what is the collective thinking of the government. The government will always take a measured decision as far as this issue is concerned.”
He was addressing reporters in Bengaluru where his party is holding its national executive meeting.
Meanwhile Health Minister J P Nadda said the panel is presently deliberating the matter and his ministry will take a decision based on merit.
“The subordinate legislative committee of Parliament is deliberating on the matter. After that, whatever comes, we will decide the things on its merit. Health Ministry has been consistent on the issue right from the beginning,” he said.
Another BJP MP Ram Prasad Sarmah had yesterday waded into the row, claiming there is no clear proof yet linking cigarette puffing and cancer.
Gupta’s remarks have also been criticised by Opposition parties including Congress, SP and CPI(M) which alleged that there was a “conflict of interest” as Gupta was in tobacco trade and also a member of Parliamentary Committee of Subordinate Legislation looking into the rules regarding tobacco sale in the country.
The developments come after the chairman of the panel Dilip Gandhi himself had said that all studies in regard to health hazards of tobacco consumption have come from abroad and one should consider the Indian aspect too.
“All agree on the harmful effects of tobacco. But there is no Indian survey report to prove that tobacco consumption leads to cancer. All the studies are done abroad. Cancer does not happen only because of tobacco. We have to study the Indian context, as four crore people in states like Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh are dependent on bidi-making through Tendupatta,” Gandhi had told PTI.
The Centre has already stayed the decision to increase the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco products following a Parliamentary panel’s assertion that it needs more time to deliberate on the issue.
Former minister and NDA ally PMK’s A Ramadoss has also come down hard on such “foolish” arguments and urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to give directions to ensure that pictorial warnings on tobacco products are increased to 85 per cent as planned earlier.