Wednesday 22 May 2019

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Govt delaying anti-tobacco act to come true

 

Three years have passed now and the legislation banning public smoking and promoting tobacco products is just not taking off, simply because the state government is now dilly-dallying over notifying the respective provisions.

"There is no pressure of any kind. We will notify it shortly", assures Goa chief secretary Ashok Nath, who also heads the high power co-ordination committee set up for the speedy and effective implementation of the act.

Dr Sharad Vaidya, chairman of the National Organisation for Tobacco Eradication, however wonders what made the government delay in issuing the notification when the committee had formally decided to begin the process from 1 January.

While the file is presently pending before chief minister Francisco Sardinha, Dr Kashinath Jalmi, the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party leader, has alleged that the government has succumbed to the pressures from the tobacco lobby. Incidentally, he is also a chain smoker like Nath, but supporting the act.

Amidst speculations that the tobacco lobby is working hard not to get the legislation passed in Goa, one of the favourite international hot spot of tourists, assent for the bill from President of India was given only in September last year. The Goa Assembly however had unanimously passed it in July 1997.

However, former Congress government led by Luizinho Faleiro had chalked out a three-prone strategy to implement the Goa Prohibition of Smoking & Spitting Act, beginning from 2 October, the Gandhi Jayanti. But nothing was implemented till date.

As per the plans, awareness campaign was to start immediately while identifying NGOs who would be empowered to implement the act. The authorities were also supposed to display sign boards in all public places while catching the violators was to begin from December, though not to be punished. The real crackdown was to start from 1 January.

"We delayed it a bit also because thousands of tourists are still in the state but not aware of the provisions of the act", said the chief secretary. He plans to start it all over again, while also banning public advertisements of tobacco products and identification of smoking zones, as provided in the act.

Besides a fine up to Rs 10,000 and three month imprisonment, selling any tobacco product to minors and in the close vicinity of educational institutions or religious places is also banned by law. You can smoke or chew tobacco, but only in private place or the authorised smoking zone in a public place.

While Nath plans to implement the act in stages, he firmly believes that its implementation could be effective only if people from the localities come forward. "It is little difficult for the government agencies to do it alone", he opines.

But Dr Vaidya is upset because some of the state legislators have been forcefully suggesting changes in the act to exempt tourists from being part of it. "It will be a sad day for the image of Goa if our MLAs become spokespersons of tobacco industry and allow the tourists to be the ambassadors of the tobacco products", he states in an open letter written to them.

Though the government still claims to be determined to implement the act, Nath also admits that he is studying the legal angle in allowing Indian cricket team to play ever in Goa as all the players carry a logo of Wills on their T shirts, which is also banned under the provisions of the act.

Deputy chief minister Dayanand Narvekar, though not a habitual smoker, is incidentally president of the Goa Cricket Association and has been trying desperately to host at least one match against South Africa in February.






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