MPs backtrack as tobacco row escalates

  • Aloke Tikku, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 04, 2015 00:30 IST

Three MPs — who last month supported the demand to withdraw the government order to increase the size of health warning on beedi packets in the Lok Sabha— backed out on Friday, conceding that smoking should be discouraged.

Ten parliamentarians stood up to support Telangana Rashtra Samiti MP Kavitha Kalvakuntla in the Lok Sabha on 10 March when she spoke against the government’s notification to increase the size of the health warning on beedi packets.

“This will have a serious effect on lakhs of beedi workers,” the TRS MP had said, insisting that the home-grown beedi industry — unlike the cigarette industry — needed “great support”. Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan wasn’t impressed. “Both are injurious (to health),” she had remarked.

But 10 MPs had quickly associated themselves with Kalvakuntla’s demand. As two BJP MPs Ram Prasad Sarmah and Shyam Charan Gupta face flak for questioning well-established research linking smoking to cancer, three of the ten MPs — BJP’s Gajendra Singh Shekhawat (Jodhpur, Rajasthan) and Ravindra Kumar Pandey (Giridih, Jharkhand) and CPM’s MB Rajesh (Palakkad, Kerala) — distanced themselves from the demand.

Shekhawat and Pandey said there was a need to slowly move beedi workers out of the sector and upgrade their skills to get them jobs in other sectors. “One has to remember that tendu leaves and beedi industry is a livelihood means for lakhs of poor,” said Shekhawat.

Pandey appeared to agree: “I think if you raise the prices of beedis by five times, consumption will automatically go down.”

Rajesh echoed the MPs, suggesting he had been misunderstood: “I did not really stand up for reducing the size of the health warning... Or against discouraging smoking.”

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