Union science minister Harsh Vardhan, who is a former health minister, on Sunday added his weight to the mounting tide of criticism heaped on three BJP MPs of a Parliamentary panel in the tobacco row, saying it produces nothing less than death.
The comments by Vardhan, a medical doctor, came even as Shyam Charan Gupta, a beedi baron and one of the BJP MPs, dismissed reports that he has been asked to step down from the Parliamentary panel in the light of a controversy over his remarks suggesting "nil" effects of smoking.
Gupta, however, said he would obey instructions from his party high command and that he would visit the national capital in a day or two, amid reports that parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu has called him to New Delhi.
Vardhan took exception to members of the Parliamentary panel--Committee of Subordinate Legislations examining the the provisions of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003--commenting on the issue that has raised questions about conflict of interest.
"I can only say that as an ENT surgeon, as a former Health Minister, as a Doctor I can say that tobacco produces death and nothing less than that," he said in response to a question by reporters in Bengaluru on the issue of increasing the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco.
Vardhan was the health minister when the notification was issued by the ministry making 85 per cent of space on cigarette packs and other tobacco products to be mandatorily covered with graphic and text warnings of health hazard.
The Parliamentary panel has asked the government to keep on hold its proposal to increase the size of pictoral warnings on tobacco products from the present 40 per cent to 85 per cent.
Asked whether the members with conflict of interest stay in the panel, he said "I think this is quite natural, why should anybody who has a conflict on interest should be commenting on a subject which raises questions about the conflict of interest."
Vardhan's comments came amid reports that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had directed removal of the members with "conflicting interest" from the Parliamentary panel concerned.
Refusing to comment on Prime Minister's reported intervention on the issue, he said, "I won't comment on what the Prime Minister has said.....after the Prime Minister has given his opinion on a subject there is no reason for any Minister to be commenting on that."
BJP MPs Dilip Gandhi, Shyam Charan Gupta, Ram Prasad Sarmah have claimed there is no clear proof yet linking tobacco products and cancer.
"Till now, I have not recieved any instructions (to step down). If I receive any sort of instructions, I will accept it," Gupta told PTI over phone from his constituency Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh.
"Whatever the party leadership decides, I will abide by it," Gupta said.
Harsh Vardhan's 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.
Refusing to comment on Prime Minister's intervention on the issue, he said "I won't comment on what the Prime Minister has said.....after the Prime Minister has given his opinion on a subject there is no reason for any Minister to be commenting on that."
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 no 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.
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.