Who will bell the cat?

Who will bell the cat?
Highlights

The oft-repeated short film on tobacco abuse in movie houses ‘Mera naam Mukesh Hain’ has unfortunately been evoking heckles among audience instead of sympathy for the victim.

The oft-repeated short film on tobacco abuse in movie houses ‘Mera naam Mukesh Hain’ has unfortunately been evoking heckles among audience instead of sympathy for the victim. It is really sad that only a few people are taking the ban on smoking seriously.

Though the Indian Parliament way back in 2003 enacted a comprehensive law ‘Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act’ or simply called COTPA, the implementation of the enactment has not been effective. Though it is enacted by the Central government, it has been left to be implemented by the local police and local authorities.

In fact, the Act puts restriction on all tobacco products including cigarettes, gutka, pan masala (containing tobacco), cigar, cheerot, Beedi, snuff, chewing tobacco, hookah and tooth powder containing tobacco.

One has to analyse the reasons as to why the powerful enactment has fallen flat due to poor implementation.

Before going into the reasons for its poor implementation, let us have a look at the provisions of the beautifully crafted enactment following the Supreme Court judgement against tobacco consumption in Murli S Deora vs. Union of India on November 2, 2001. The Supreme Court stated in its judgement, "Tobacco is universally regarded as one of the major public health hazards and is responsible directly or indirectly for an estimated eight lakh deaths annually in the country. It has also been found that treatment of tobacco-related diseases and the loss of productivity caused therein cost the country almost Rs 13,500 crore annually, which more than offsets all the benefits accruing in the form of revenue and employment generated by tobacco industry.”

India, which claims that there will be loss of revenue if tobacco cultivation is banned, has to take a cue from its tiny neighbour Bhutan which is the only country in the world to completely outlaw the cultivation, harvesting, production and sale of tobacco and tobacco products under the Tobacco Control Act of Bhutan, 2010.

What are public places?
The COTPA prohibits smoking of tobacco in public places, except in special smoking zones in hotels, restaurants and airports and open spaces. Places where smoking is restricted include auditoriums, movie theatres, hospitals, public transport (aircraft, buses, trains, metros, monorails, taxis,) and their related facilities (airports, bus stands/stations, railway stations), restaurants, hotels, bars, pubs, amusement centres, offices (government and private), libraries, courts, post offices, markets, shopping malls, canteens, refreshment rooms, banquet halls, discothèques, coffee houses, educational institutions and parks. Smoking is allowed on roads, inside one's home or vehicle. The meaning of open space has been extended to mean such spaces which is visited by public, and includes open auditorium, stadium and bus stand.

Advertisement of tobacco products including cigarettes is prohibited by the enactment. Tobacco products cannot be sold to person below the age of 18 years, and in places within 100 metres radius from the outer boundary of an institution of education. Tobacco products must be sold, supplied or distributed in a package which shall contain an appropriate pictorial warning, its nicotine and tar contents.

Sweeping powers to police
The Act also gives power to any police officer, not below the rank of a sub-inspector or any officer of State Food or Drug Administration or any other officer, holding the equivalent rank being not below the rank of Sub-Inspector of Police for search and seizure of premises where tobacco products are produced, stored or sold, if he suspects that the provision of the Act has been violated.

The owner/manager/in-charge of a public place must display a board containing the warning “No Smoking Area - Smoking here is an offence” in appropriate manner at the entrance and inside the premises.

Who is empowered to impose fine?
A fine up to Rs 200 can be imposed for smoking in public place, selling tobacco products to minors, or selling tobacco products within a radius of 100 metres from any educational institution.

Here comes the catch point. Who has the power to impose fine on the violators of smoking ban? To be precise who will bell the cat?

The rules relating to COTPA stipulate that the fine could be imposed on the violators by the person who heads the institution where smoking is banned. Auditoriums, movie theatres, hospitals, public transport (aircraft, buses, trains, metros, monorails, taxis,) and their related facilities (airports, bus stands/stations, railway stations), restaurants, hotels, bars, pubs, amusement centres, offices (government and private), libraries, courts, post offices, markets, shopping malls, canteens, refreshment rooms, banquet halls, discothèques, coffee houses, educational institutions and parks are the places where smoking is banned. Any person who is in charge of these institutions could impose the fine of Rs 100 or Rs 200 as the case may be by following certain procedure.

If the heads of these institutions want to implement the COTPA effectively, they need to apply for a receipt book from the Collectorate or sub-collector’s office as the case may be. After obtaining the receipt book, he can impose the fine against the violators of law in the territory on which he exercises authority. After collecting the fine from the violators, the heads of these institutions should submit the collected fine in the government treasury.

This lengthy procedure has become a major hurdle in the implementation of the ban on smoking in public places.

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