Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Arecanut has indeed high economic importance to the people of Karnataka and it contributes to 50% of country's production. India is the major producer of arecanut, its share in global production being 47%. One of its important uses is in the manufacture of products like Gutka, a concoction of tobacco and this tree nut. Recent ban of Gutka through out the country on the basis of food laws of the country has raised concern regarding its adverse impact of this policy on the livelihood of thousands of Areca farmers in the state. Thus there is a dilemma as to whether farmer's interest should be protected or consumer health is to be safeguarded. According to FSSAI provisions individual states will have to ban gutka initially for one year and then extend every year, though it is not clear as to why this vacillation when it has been proved scientifically to be harmful to health! What is of concern is the tendency of politicians to "over rule" scientific evidence and oppose such a ban on gutka. Here is an instance of a former Chief Minister of Karnataka criticizing the implementation of food safety laws under FSSAI and "certifying" that these products are not injurious!    

"As per the Supreme Court directive, States were asked to file affidavits by June 25. The case was posted for July 26.What was the urgency to decide on the ban, without discussing the matter with all the stakeholders," he sought to know. Gowda was particularly critical of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah for what he called "ignoring" the repercussions of the ban. "Farmers have been petitioning the elected representatives from the arecanut-growing regions. It was not expected of the government to ban gutka without providing an alternative to farmers," he said. The ban on paan masala was also "thoughtless." Paan masala has no proven record of being injurious to public health. "The Kerala High Court has, in fact, reversed the government's decision to ban paan masala in that State," Gowda pointed out. BJP MLC Srinivas Poojar said people employed in the gutka industry had been pushed to the streets. In reply, Health Minister, U T Khader said that the government did not have any other option. "We had to comply with the SC directive. Even the Advocate General favoured the ban."

It is true that the matter is being discussed in the state high court on a private petition but the court has not given any direction to the state to stay the ban. Therefore the state administration has no choice but to implement the food law, passed by country's parliament. There are some similarities between tobacco smoking and gutka chewing as both contain tobacco as a common ingredient. The logical question is why there is no ban on making or selling of cigarette or bidi in this country and if the citizens come to the conclusion that the economic muscle of cigarette industry is influencing the government policy, there may be some grain of truth in this. Why not apply the same yardstick to gutka also and leave the farmers and the gutka industry alone by simply insisting on a warning label declaring it can cause cancer and other health problems?  Of course ideally all tobacco based products must be banned with out any extraneous consideration for which no government in the world seems to have the guts! The distinction between chewing and smoking cannot be stretched too far to punish the gutka industry. On a different footing gutka chewers can be hauled up for defacing public places by spitting their blood red saliva juice indiscriminately every where.  


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