The MP who told the Parliamentary committee of subordinate legislation (of which he is also a member) that beedis have “nil” harmful effect is a beedi baron. Shyama Charan Gupta’s beedi business, by his own admission, has an annual turnover of “Rs 200-250 crore — between 1-1.5 per cent of the total beedi trade in the country”.
Gupta said that the push for 85 per cent pictorial warnings on packaging for tobacco products is an American conspiracy to destroy Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India call by hurting the beedi trade. “Beedis are my ancestral business. Shyam Beedi is the brand name. We have been around for 30-40 years. Our annual turnover is Rs 200-250 crore from beedis alone. Shyam Group of Companies is also into dairy, hotel, cold storage and detergent powder manufacturing among other businesses. I employ about 10,000 beedi rollers. During the tendu plucking season, we employ between 30,000-50,000 contractual workers to pluck leaves in the forest lots auctioned in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh,” Gupta told The Indian Express.
The Union Health Ministry heeded a recommendation of the committee on subordinate legislation of which Gupta is a member when it decided to keep in abeyance a notification dated October 2014 that made it mandatory for all tobacco packets to carry a pictorial warning covering 85 per cent of its principal display area. The committee heard only representatives of the tobacco industry and not any health experts to make its recommendation. The recommendation is, however, not binding on the government.
Gupta had written to the committee in November last year that beedis have very little tobacco and therefore “nil” harmful effect, a claim that flies in the face of reality. According to experts, beedis are estimated to kill 600,000 people annually in India. The Allahabad MP is not ready to believe these numbers. “Beedis are made from green leaves which are dried. It has a herbal effect. Admittedly there is some nicotine in tobacco but the quantity is very small. I know because I am in the business. I can show you thousands of people who smoke beedi and are fine. America-funded NGOs are trying to put the blame for lifestyle diseases on tobacco in a bid to kill the indigenous industry. They will destroy Modi’s Make in India call,” he said.
Alleging that the pictorial warnings that are being pushed are not real pictures, but created ones, Gupta called upon the government to make a distinction between smoked and chewed tobacco. He believes the former is not as harmful. “When you chew, it goes into your stomach and has an effect. When you smoke, it is different. This distinction has to be made. Besides, what is the point of fighting for pack warnings when 40 per cent of the beedi market is unbranded?” he asked.
The industrialist-MP Shyama Charan Gupta’s empire
♦ Shyam Beedi Works Limited
♦ Shyam Cold Storage
♦ Shyam Housing and Finance Private Limited
♦Hotel Kanha Shyam
♦A detergent manufacturing unit
♦Is a carrying and forwarding Agent for Indian Oil Corporation Ltd.
♦Shyam Dairy Plant
♦ Baghban incense sticks
♦Lamhe Beauty Soaps
♦ Kanha Shyam Residency
♦ Group Housing at Kanpur.