Although a ban was enforced on public smoking in the country in October 2008,it continues to go unchecked in Gujarat. Even as No Tobacco Day will be observed on May 31,the state government has not done enough to enforce the law.
An RTI application filed by a Bharuch-based NGO,Sparsh,which works for women and children and also runs an anti-tobacco campaign,has revealed this. The state government has neither assigned any special officers,nor has it strictly implemented the ban on public smoking. Major cities,including Ahmedabad,Surat and Vadodara,have not been able to penalise anyone for public smoking.
The NGO in 2008 had filed an RTI application with the state Health Department seeking detailed information about the status of the anti-tobacco law. The application had asked how many people had been fined and if the government has taken any legal step against the restaurants and hotels where smoking is going on unchecked. It also enquired as to what actions have been taken against shops selling tobacco products within 100 metres of educational institutions.
As per the reply to the RTI,the Mehsana district administration has fined only one person,while the Vadodara administration could not provide data on penalty collected.
In Ahmedabad,the data has been made available with the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC). It suggests that between October 3 and December 31,last year,a total of 754 people had been fined a total of Rs 16,830 for smoking in public places.
The civic body had issued about 100 notices to the paan and cigarette kiosk owners near schools and colleges. Over 2,100 gutkha packets were also seized.
Similarly,the Surat Regional Controller (ST) division said that they have so far collected Rs 17,925 as penalty,in reply to the RTI.
The NGO,however,claims that the government has done little to enforce the ban effectively. The application was sent to the state Health Department for cumulative data of the entire state,but we were not given proper data. Instead,the state Health Department has forwarded it to various government departments, said Ashish Bhatt,the secretary of Sparsh.
He added: We have received separate replies from various sources such as nagarpalikas,municipal corporations and gram panchayats. We were expecting the entire data to come in a compact form as asked. Instead,various departments were asked to send the details. This suggests that the government has no data available at the highest level.
The state Health Department,however,claimed that it has created a steering committee across the districts and a chairman has been appointed. State Health Commissioner Amarjit Singh said: We have been taking steps and several cases have been registered against those found smoking in public places. I cannot give you numbers or the amount of penalty right away,but we have not only fined public smokers,we have also registered cases against the hookah bars.