By C D SOUZA
Karnataka government’s decision to ban gutka on the occasion of ‘No tobacco day’ on May 31 has run into rough weather and has taken a political overtone with the BJP demanding its withdrawal. As undivided Dakshina Kannada is one of the four major areca growing districts of Karnataka along with Shimoga, Chikmagalur and Uttara Kannada the hue and cry over the gutka ban is much louder and shriller here. Areca growing farmers of these districts fear that gutka ban will hit them badly and the opposition parties have taken up the cudgels on behalf of the farmers. Ironically Health Minister U T Khader who was instrumental in the ban, hails from Dakshina Kannada and that is what makes the whole issue quite contentious.
Though the BJP says it is not opposing the ban as such, it wants the government to make alternative arrangements keeping in view the interest of areca farmers. The party finds itself in a tricky situation because it can neither support the ban for the fear of alienating the areca growing farmers nor can it oppose it because people may accuse it of sacrificing the health of the people. Leaders and members of the areca growers association are also up in arms against this decision of the government to ban gutka. Both Dakshina Kannada and Udupi have large number of areca farmers who derive their major source of income from areca. In fact all those who used to cultivate paddy shifted to growing areca a decade ago, as the income was better than that of paddy growing.
Dakshina Kannada MP Nalin Kumar Kateel when contacted pointed out that his party is not averse to gutka ban as such. “If an alternative mechanism is evolved to compensate the farmers who might be affected so that their livelihood is not lost”, Kateel pointed out.
An impartial look at the way the ban was introduced by the Health Minister U T Khader, it can be firmly said that government took a decision in haste without giving a proper thought process, without taking into confidence the various stakeholders and without making alternative arrangements in case areca farmers lose their livelihood. At the same time it must be borne in mind that the areca grown here in coastal districts is not used in gutka producation and hence may not have much of an impact on the growers.
Areca growers, however, are not pacified. Their contention is that when tobacco products like beedies and cigarettes, which are the main causes of cancer, are not banned, the government cannot justify its act of banning gutka. As President of All India Areca Growers Association, Manchi Srinivas Achar points out “gutka has 80 per cent areca nut and rest of it is nothing but tobacco and chemicals in various forms. It is this tobacco and chemicals which are deleterious to health. There is no evidence to say that areca as such, has any side effects on the health of the people. So unless the government bans all forms of tobacco there cannot be any health benefits for the public just by banning gutka”.
Achar also points out that the government has given license to manufacture these chemicals to people and these chemicals are used in most of the food items people consume on regular basis. So he says if the government is really concerned about the health of its people it should withdraw the license given to them and ban all forms of tobacco. Achar also contends that a ban on gutka will have two major consequences namely the government would lose revenue in the form of tax loss and it would promote adulteration and underground production of the same.
Dr R Anand, Professor and HOD of Pulmonary Medicine at KMC, Mangalore, when contacted also supported the views expressed by Achar saying there is no proof that areca is causing health problems. “In reality it is the tobacco which is causing health hazards and not areca. But I don’t subscribe to the idea that gutka should not be banned because tobacco is not banned. Tobacco in any form is harmful and over a period of time both gutka and tobacco should go” Dr Anand pointed out. He further added that any ban would be effective only if the people willingly accept it. Gutka ban is an emotive issue because it is the question of livelihood of areca growers. But it is necessary to give a thought to the long term benefits and work in that direction, Dr Anand stated.
Chairman of Central Areca nut and Cocoa Marketing and Processing Cooperative (CAMPCO) has played a crucial role in stabilizing the price of areca. It can be said that without CAMPCO there would not have been a market for areca. Konkodi Padmanabha termed the government decision to ban gutka as hasty and said that the government should ban import of areca so as to stabilize the price. He said he along with a few representatives will meet the state Chief Minister Tomorrow (June 5th) to impress upon him to withdraw the ban on Gutka. He said “11 states in India grow areca but Karnataka accounts for nearly 40% of the total production and hence the ban on gutka will have adverse repercussions on areca growers. We would have appreciated if the government had made alternative arrangement for gutka use. We want to convince the Chief Minister on the sagacity of withdrawing the ban”.
Gutka ban has already taken political undertones and it would be prudent for the government to make alternative use of areca and convince the growers that ban on gutka would in no way affect their interests. Gutka ban should be followed by the decision to ban all forms of tobacco use. This would send right signals to the cynics that the government is serious about the health of its people.
(Posted on June 5, 2013 @ 11.30am)