Exactly one year after its interim report stalled 85 per cent pictorial warnings on tobacco packets, the committee on subordinate legislation of the Lok Sabha, in a sparsely attended meeting on Friday, finalised its report which recommends that 50 per cent of the total display area of tobacco packets should carry a warning. The report is expected to be tabled in Parliament as soon as the remaining members have signed it.
“The committee are of considered (opinion) that in order to have a balanced approach the warning on the cigarette packets should be 50% of the principal display area instead of 85% of the principal display area as it will be too harsh and as deliberated in the earlier paras. Will result in flooding of illicit cigarettes in the country. This may lead to a general perception that imported cigarettes are safer than Indian brands, which will also impact government revenues,” says the report. For beedis, 50 per cent of only one side of the pack should have the warning.
Those who attended the meeting included Allahabad MP S C Gupta, whose beedi empire, according to his own estimates, is worth Rs 250 crore. Committee chairman Dilip Gandhi was not available for comment. His PA said he was at the World Culture Festival.
It was the interim report of the same committee, submitted in March last year, that made the government put on hold a notification originally issued in October 2014 mandating 85 per cent pictorial warnings on tobacco packets. Following resolute stonewalling from the government, it had to capitulate after the Rajasthan High Court directed the government to implement the notification. The new date now stands at April 1, 2016, exactly a year after the original date of implementation. At present pictorial warnings on tobacco packets cover 40 per cent of the principal display area.
The final report mentions that the beedi industry had not been consulted in the drafting of the rules and its implementation would “hammer a death knell for the entire beedi industry”. “The committee strongly feels that the government needs to reconsider their decision to cover beedi industry under the amended rules and recommend that a practical approach in the matter may be adopted by increasing the size of warning upto 50% on one side of the beedi pack, which will be feasible to follow and which would also ensure that a large number of people in the trade will be saved from being rendered unemployed,” the report says.