KOLKATA, 31 MAY: Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who blatantly defied Tobacco Control Act, 2003, may have left Writers’ Buildings but the trail of smoke still encircles the corridors of power with the present government’s utter lack of initiative to implement the Act.
Section 4 of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 prohibits smoking in public places, including government offices. The Act made it mandatory for government offices to have a designated official for monitoring enforcement of Tobacco Control Laws in the premises. Rules on ban on smoking in public places notified vide G.S.R. 417(E) dated 30 May, 2008 authorise more officers, in addition to those already identified to enforce the law, to impose and collect fine against the violation of the Act. The official in-charge is authorised to penalise a person found smoking on the premises with Rs 200. If the official do not take any action against the people found smoking, the amount of fine is liable to deducted from his salary.
However, even after four years the rules came into force, they are yet to be implemented in the state government offices. None of the government offices have designated officials to monitor enforcement of Tobacco Control Laws in the premises. The work has been entrusted to the secretaries of various departments for whom it is impossible to keep watch on smokers and penalise them. Even Swasthya Bhawan is a puff happy zone with enforcement officers looking away.
In March 2008, when the State Pollution Control Board and the Public Works Department had issued a notice banning smoking inside the Secretariat, the erstwhile chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had made it clear that he would continue to puff inside his office.
Dr Gangadhar Mahapatra, assistant director of health services (Oncology) and nodal officer of State Tobacco Control Cell said that there had hardly been any improvement in the anti-tobacco campaign in the state after the change in government. “It is our lack of initiative that the implementation process is so slow. A lot of projects were mooted but none could take off,” he said.
During an awareness campaign in Howrah, 11 people were slapped with fine for smoking in public places in a span of two months. But he said that in so many years, not a single employee of a government office was penalised for smoking inside the premises.
Karnataka’s Anti-Tobacco Cell has collected Rs 2.75 lakh as fine following imposition of ban on smoking in public places on October 2, 2008, Pune collected about Rs 1.5 lakh, Tamil Nadu collected as much as Rs 58 lakh as fine from smokers. The figures for West Bengal embarrassingly remain zero.
Though challan books and money receipt books have been sent to various state departments, they are seldom put to used with majority of officials smoking unabashedly in offices, corridors, canteens and even toilets.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research’s report ~ Cancer associated with the use of tobacco ~ nearly 44.4 per cent of all cancers in men in Kolkata are because of tobacco followed by Chennai (41.4 per cent), Delhi (39.4 per cent) and Mumbai (39.2 per cent).
Soma Basu (The Statesman)