BJP MP from Allahabad Shyama Charan Gupta, who is in midst of a controversy over his comments on tobacco, on Thursday justified his comment and said that the tobacco industry was being unfairly targeted by a powerful lobby in India.
The MP, who owns the 350-crore Shyam Group of Industries of which Shyam Bidi Works is an integral and vital part of 11 ventures owned by the group, had recently questioned “Why cannot doctors explain why chain smokers do not get cancer?" and maintained that "Sugar is also harmful and causes diabetes, but no one can stop that” in his defense of the trade in tobacco products.
These comments came while the MP was being questioned by TV channels in wake of a parliamentary committee headed by BJP MP from Ahmednagar Dilip Gandhi and having Shyama Charan Gupta as one of its members, delaying plans of the Centre to enforce bigger health warnings on cigarette packets by saying it wanted more time to study the issue.
The 15-member committee, which had included eight from BJP, had made a case for the bidi industry. But it is said to have failed to speak to health experts but taken views of tobacco lobby representatives before seeking more time.
Gupta, whose Shyam Bidi Works is one of the largest bidi manufacturers in the country and has been running since 1973, has on news channels, denied a conflict of interest by serving on a committee that has given the tobacco industry a big breather and even said that beedis were less harmful than cigarettes.
Though earlier he is reported to have also queried as to "Why are we working under WHO (World Health Organization) pressure?" and even invoked Narendra Modi’s ‘Make-in India campaign’ to defend his stand, the MP seemed to downplay his comments later on Thursday in wake of the controversy that his and Gandhi’s comments have generated.
“It is an unnecessary controversy. All I have tried to put across is the fact that lakhs of poor workers are involved in the bidi making trade and depend on it for their survival. Bidis are also known to be less harmful than cigarettes. We need to re-examine the issue and some time should be taken to look into all aspects in detail, including possible role of lobbyists trying to undermine bread and butter of lakhs of poor people who survive through this trade,” he said.
Interestingly this is the second controversy over his comments to hit Gupta as just a few days ago he had attracted ire of many organizations and political parties, especially the Samajwadi Party, for objectionable comments made against girls of a minority community during a ceremony at Bhuipara village of Meja block in Allahabad. Later, however, he had denied making any such comments.