Tobacco farmers appeal for national policy review

Published on May 31, 2015 00:52:43 AM

A federation comprising of nine leading Tobacco Farmers Associations of India appealed to the Government of India for safeguarding their interests against the ongoing propaganda on tobacco in India. The Federation released a 10 point appeal document for the consideration of the Government following a rally and a march by a cross section of tobacco farmers and workers. The Federation also announced “Chalo Delhi”- where farmers will march to Delhi to make an appeal to the Central government.

According to P Chengal Reddy, chief advisor, Consortium of Indian Farmers Association (CISF) and Chairman, Federation of Farmers Associations, Andhra Pradesh, “The subject of tobacco needs to be handled with great care and interests of the most vulnerable stakeholders in the delivery chain need to be safeguarded. Unfortunately, recent policy focus has been one sided blindly aping the recommendations of the Western influence and in complete disregard for the local reality in India”

Muralibabu, Kondepi Tobacco Growers Association, explained, “Tobacco is an extremely important cash crop which is grown in 13 states in India. The industry provides direct employment to 4. 57 crore people out of which 57 per cent are farmers, 19 per cent tobacco workers, 9 per cent tribals and 16 per cent petty retailers. Indirect employment benefit to distributors, traders etc is in addition to this. We are disturbed that influencers want the industry to be removed overnight, without a practical provision for alternatives. So far the farming community has not been able to find any alternative, as tobacco is grown in semi-arid and non-irrigated lands. We urge the Government to provide practical alternatives before rushing into any major policy changes.”

Gadde Seshagiri Rao, member - Tobacco Board, Added, “Extreme regulations imposed in the recent past have only helped the business of smugglers. Ever since pictorial warnings were introduced in 2009, the illicit tobacco trade has grown by 31 per cent. Smuggled cigarettes do not carry warnings, and understandably perceived safer by consumers; they also do not use Indian tobacco thereby reducing the demand for farmers. This year, prices of tobacco are already down by 7 per cent, and any further regulation will put extreme stress on the farming community.”

“We urge the Government to investigate people demanding harsher policies against tobacco of the kind which none of the major tobacco growing countries like US, China, Japan have adopted so far”.

The farmers appealed the government to protect livelihood of 4.57 crore stakeholders till such time sustainable viable alternatives are provided. Policy framework should be made equitable, rational, reasonable and balanced based on scientific data and evidence. The government should protect Swadeshi products and Swadeshi brands thereby strengthening the philosophy of "Make in India". Consult all stakeholders to frame a well-balanced tobacco control regulation, investigate the hidden agenda of the activists.

Their source of funds, purpose, utilisation, individual/institutional wealth prior to and post tobacco activism. Also to investigate all the beneficiaries and the linkages of such individuals and institutions. Independently validate all the data, statistics, studies, claims and assertions. A detailed study should be carried out on the socio-economic impact of anti-tobacco measures so that a balanced, well-calibrated framework can be developed to address our concerns. The government should study the international court judgements.

Tobacco products are manufactured across India by over 2,000 manufacturers. Over 40 lakh tribals get gainful employment for plucking tendu leaves. All tobacco products are "Make in India" products, 100 per cent swadeshi and mostly swadeshi brands. Over 1 crore workers are employed in this Industry. There are 72 lakh retailers who are self-employed entrepreneurs from the lowest strata of the society.