'Beedi' baron Gupta absent at meeting of House panel on tobacco

  • Saubhadra Chatterji, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 06, 2015 22:23 IST

Facing massive public outrage, the parliamentary panel reviewing the tobacco warning policies would take into account the health hazards and not just the concerns of the beedi industries to finalise its report.

The panel met on Monday but beedi factory owner-turned-BJP MP Shyama Charan Gupta, who came under scathing public criticism for opposing health warnings on tobacco products, skipped the meeting.

Sources told HT that several members said at the meeting that health hazards can't be ignored while many slammed Sharma over the alleged "conflict of interest" over beedi matters.

The panel chief, BJP's Dilip Kumar Gandhi, said the committee can't ignore health concerns and added that members should only talk about public interest and not vested interest.

Earlier, members such as Gupta, Gandhi and Ram Prasad Sharmah kicked up a storm as the reportedly argued against links between tobacco and cancer. The panel had also sought extension before implementing new tobacco warnings as it pointed out that there is no Indian study linking tobacco to cancer.

Sources added that Gandhi and others admitted that issue has generated "lot of controversy" even as Trinamool's Idris Ali, Congress' Nandi Yellaiah and others pointed out to the economic effects of any curb on tobacco products.

"We can't ignore the health hazards. But we also have to keep in mind that poorest of the poor earn their livings in the beedi industry. The issue of their livelihood must also be taken into consideration. A balanced approach is needed," said an MP.

The panel will hold its next meeting in Kolkata on April 13 to talk to beedi workers.

Meanwhile, parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu reiterated Monday that MPs must declare any case of conflict of interest as per rules. Naidu's remarks are seen as a suggestion to party MPs to clarify their position to avoid any future controversy.

The Congress sought to drive a wedge in the BJP by asking if former health minister Harsh Vardhan was removed from the ministry last year due to his anti-tobacco stand. "Harsh Vardhan's anti-tobacco activism responsible for his removal," party's chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said. "Grapevine has it that a midnight call from BJP president Amit Shah sealed his fate."

The opposition party also accused the NDA government of "propagating and promoting the tobacco lobby" in the country to common man's peril.

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