Kunal Vijayakar questions Kerala’s ‘fat tax’. And why it is next to impossible to implement all over India.
I now weigh around 90kg. After losing about 12 kilos(in the last six months), I am still fat.
Though I can now fit into a pair of 34-inch Calvin Klein jeans, nobody’s yet mistaken me for a slim person. My clothes from 10 years ago have started fitting me perfectly well. In spite of that, I cannot call myself either lean or lithe. Even though I’ve been a constant 71kg for most of my adult life, I have always been called ample, chubby, podgy, and even full-bodied or any other endearing fat term you’d like to address me by.
But that’s just me. And imposing a fat tax is not going to make me thinner.
But the government of Kerala has plans to impose a fat tax on fatty food. In reality, it means it plans to impose a tax on fat people who consume fatty food. This, I am sure if argued judiciously and cleverly is as unconstitutional and discriminatory as levying a tax on dark people who use Fair & Lovely or talcum powder.
The purpose of the tax is to create a healthy population and a fit society. However, in my wildest dreams, I cannot fathom how any government in any Indian state is going to achieve a healthy and slim population by taxing fatty food. Indians thrive on fatty food. Our most iconic Indian foods are either deep-fried, sugary-sweet, or full of carbohydrates. And we need to stop blaming multinational fast food companies for our diet.
Most Indians eat at home and on the streets, and not at McDonald’s and Domino’s. So the government may be able to tax a Burger King, but how will they tax every street vendor who serves you the most sinfully delicious vada pav? It is that unbelievable fattening, yet marvelously appetising dish made with boiled potatoes tossed in a huge tadka of oil, then dipped in a batter of besan and soda bicarbonate and deep-fried till crisp. It is served in a bun of a complex carbohydrate bread; it’s maddeningly delicious.
You think anyone is thinking of nutrition when they dip a vada pav in a sticky tamarind and jaggery chutney? How will a government track down the millions of vendors who sell deep-fried Indian snacks and tax them? The poor street vendor doesn’t pay income tax; try getting him to pay fat tax.
Surely, you must have eaten a pizza in India. Not a pizza from a branded chain, but the roadside veg cheese pizza. White bread dough rolled out flat, topped with a layer of butter and doused in a paste of tomato and onion that has been fried and sautéed in oil. It is garnished with freshly chopped onions and capsicum, and then smothered with the most generous layer of at least 400 grams of grated processed cheese. It is then drizzled with butter and baked in a grill till the cheese crisps up. With every gram of great taste comes a tonne of calories. The authorities may be able to tax a registered pizza company, but how will it track every roadside pizza seller and tax him?
While we’re at it, how about taxing the parathawala in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk? Pure refined flour, kneaded in ghee and oil, rolled out in layers, each layer again smeared with ghee. This is then stuffed with potatoes, and unlike Punjabi parathas that are either toasted on a griddle or roasted in a tandoor, the Chandni Chowk parathas are fried in two inches of hot oil, which for all practical purposes is as good as or as bad as deep-frying. Will anyone be able to keep an eye on his cash accounts and tax him?
How will a government tax a kachori vendor in the markets of Mathura or the streets of Lucknow? The kachori that is so lovingly made with layers of maida dough, rolled out using pure ghee, stuffed with pyaaz masala or even mawa, and then deep-fried so that the ghee between the layers create the crispiest and puffiest pastry possible.
What about some deliciously crisp, flaming orange jalebis? It is pure maida soaked and fermented. And then gloriously deep-fried and doused in sugar syrup and, in some cultures, eaten with fafdas (the Gujarati crispy snack is made with besan and, yes, also deep-fried).
What about gulab jamuns? Made with abundant khoya, maida, and sugar bountifully fried in ghee, and then kept soaking in sugar syrup till each plump brown ball swells with sweetness.
How about a roadside sweet lassi in Benares or Lakhanpur de bhalle, Dilli ka chaat or Bihar’s litti chokha, Jaipur’s mirchi vada, or fried Punugulu from Andhra Pradesh, chole bhatura from Amritsar, or kothu parotta from Tamil Nadu, aloo moong daal pakora from Kumaon, or the kathi rolls from Kolkata?
Which of these glorious Indian fast food snacks are non-fattening? And how in god’s great heaven is anyone going to be able to levy a tax on them?
Author and TV show host Vijayakar is “always hungry”. He tweets as @kunalvijayakar.