'Include industry men, farmers in WHO tobacco control meet'
New Delhi: Tobacco Institute of India (TII) on Monday asked the government to undertake prior consultation with farmers and industry stakeholders before the WHO tobacco control conference in October.
The tobacco industry lobby group also demanded inclusion of 'stakeholder representatives' in the official Indian delegation to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Conference of Parties (FCTC COP8) meeting to be held in Geneva from October 1-6.
"Framing of tobacco control policies at the conference without the involvement of tobacco farmers, whose livelihood is seriously threatened, is unfair and unprincipled with the risk of their genuine concerns being subverted and severely compromised," TII Director Syed Mahmood Ahmad said in a statement.
Stating that "millions of small and marginal retailers" derive their livelihood from sale of tobacco products in India, he said, "Policy development without cognising for the genuine concerns and apprehensions of this stakeholder group will have serious livelihood consequences resulting in huge unemployment and poverty issues."
TII, which represents leading cigarette manufacturers such as ITC, Godfrey Philips and VST, further said despite repeated appeals by tobacco growers and farmer organisations over the years from across the world, their participation in the Conference has consistently been denied.
"We request the government of India to engage extensively with the industry stakeholders on the FCTC articles contained in the COP8 agenda and also include industry stakeholders and representatives from the farming community in the official Indian delegation to the conference," it added.
This is extremely important in order to arrive at a balanced and pragmatic position on various proposals and guidelines at the conference, TII said.
Meanwhile, Tobacco acreage and production in the country have started declining as the government is encouraging farmers in ten states like Andhra Pradesh to shift to alternative crops in a big way, a senior government official said on Monday. Alternative crops like foodgrains, cereals, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables, sugarcane, oil palm, and even dairy and poultry activities have been identified for tobacco growing areas in different states, he said.
"Both area and production of tabacco are declining every year because the government is supporting with funds to encourage the tobacco growers to shift to alternative crops," the official said.
About Rs 9.5 crore was released to the tobacco growing states in the 2017-18 fiscal to shift to alternative farming. Funds are being provided under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), he said.
As per the latest data, the tobacco area has declined by 14.56 per cent to 3.99 lakh hectares in 2016-17 from 4.67 lakh hectares in 2014-15. Even tobacco output has come down to 8.05 lakh tonnes in 2016-17 from Rs 8.55 lakh tonnes in 2014-15.
"India's tobacco production is higher than Brazil but much lower than China. Efforts are being made to reduce both area and production in our country," the official said.
More awareness is being created in the growing states and even the Tobacco Board is distributing pamphlets on package of practices for alternative crops to Flue Cured Virginia (FCV) tabacco, he said and added this will yield positive results.