Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss’s crusade against tobacco appears to have little support in his own ministry. Despite several posters proclaiming that it is against the law to smoke in public places, not a single person has been fined for smoking or consuming tobacco at Nirman Bhavan, which houses the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare that drafted the law banning public smoking.
“Perhaps people are too scared to smoke here,” said a health ministry babu. When you point to the empty cigarette boxes and gutka pouches littering the compound, he looks embarrassed. “Perhaps people hide and smoke. In the two years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen anyone do it here,” he says.
The guards at the ministry are obviously sharper and say it’s not unusual to see people walking around chewing tobacco and smoking. “We are just in charge of security. When people who are supposed to implement the law break it, there is little we can do,” says a guard.
Smoking was banned in public places in Delhi in 2004. Ramadoss expressed surprise at the lax implementation of his no-tobacco policies in his own ministry. “The ministry is strictly no-smoking and though I would like to believe everyone who works here respects the law, I find it difficult to believe that not a single person has broken it. I’m frankly surprised no one has been fined here. I’ll have the matter looked into at once,” he said.
According to the Indian Council for Medical Research, tobacco kills 1 million people in India each year, but the number is expected to rise. From 2010 on, smoking alone will kill 10 lakh adults aged 30-69 years, reported India’s first nationally representative study in the New England Journal of Medicine in February.