The Tobacco Company has menacingly bared its fang

The Central Government has Anti- Tobacco body in a vice like grip

New Delhi: Is the incumbent central government a tobacco lobby friendly regime? Is the government throttling the highly appreciated indigenous public health advocacy body PHFI (Public Health Foundation of India), which ran a very successful anti tobacco campaign, at the behest of this mighty lobby?

Well, the PHFI has not imputed it directly yet; ITC (Indian Tobacco Company), the tobacco (cigarette) major of India itself has brazened out and revealed the ‘link-up’ in so many words. Just after the government swooped on the anti tobacco advocacy body, the tobacco company ran a poster campaign blatantly thanking the government for cancelling the FRCA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) license of PHFI, its bête noire and adversary number one. The posters also clearly stated that the company’s thanksgiving was ‘for listening to us’, giving the impression as if ITC had interceded asking the government to act against anti tobacco advocacy groups.

In the recent AGM of ITC (Indian Tobacco Company), its chairman Y.C. Deveshwar is allegedly said to be gloating over the cancellation of PHFI’s license, saying that it was a good move on the part of the government to have taken anti tobacco campaigners to task.

In fact, from 2015 onwards, ITC, the tobacco behemoth that doles out deaths by promoting killer cigarettes, has been baring its fangs and flaunting its considerable influence on powers that be. ITC has been making open media statements, saying foreign funded NGOs are hurting Indian tobacco economy. In Guntur in 2016, ITC chairman Deveshwar went to the extent of saying that it had provided the government with the information about foreign funded anti tobacco NGOs for initiating actions against them.

Incidentally, Modi government contains two mighty ministers who used to be on tobacco lobby’s panel of attorneys and would be heard arguing passionately in the Supreme Court in favour of tobacco companies. This was revealed by none other than the gutsy apex court advocate and former Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising in one end game tobacco conference held in Delhi long ago.

Dr K Srinath Reddy, founding president of PHFI and a no- nonsense anti tobacco campaigner, is particularly being targeted and is in the fire line of world tobacco lobby. Dr Reddy has been globally appreciated as one of the few public health policy experts and anti tobacco champions under the sun and is viewed as an asset for government’s stated aim of Universal Health Coverage (UHC). In fact, Dr Reddy is the architect of UHC and seems indispensable for making it a reality.

Undaunted by chain of events, Dr. Reddy, while talking to Medicare News, said, ‘We would fight the battle for the people of India. I hope the government would take independent view and make judgement in the interest of the people. We have answered all the queries posed and issues raised by Union Home Ministry. Our conscience is clear and there has been no skeleton in PHFI’s cupboard. PHFI has been created by Union Health Ministry and has always worked in consonance with the directives of the ministry.’

Dr Reddy’s quip that whenever there is climate change there is always danger of hurricane speaks a volume about the nexus at play behind PHFI’s woes.

The action of the government in crippling PHFI, the very instrument that has been promoting best of health and wellness in the country, gives lie to its much flaunted aim of ‘Healthy India’. Neither is it in sync with reiteration of tobacco control as its major commitment in the recently unveiled National health policy.

The damage due to government’s indiscreet action is immense. PHFI is dying a slow death. Its corpus fund is depleting and is on the verge of coming to naught. All its activities of advancing public health capacity and strengthening healthcare systems in the country have come to a grinding halt. PHFI’s credentials are very many and it has earned accolades umpteenth of times. It is PHFI’s credentials that have made it a globally acclaimed NGO. PHFI has scripted UHC (Universal Health Coverage) which forms the backbone of New National Health Policy. But PHFI’s fate is hanging in balance and its demise would be a severe disservice to the nation.

It has been an open secret that tobacco lobby has had considerable clout in the governments of all time but such bravado on the part of the Indian Tobacco Company was unheard of before. In all regimes, it tried every trick in the book to paint PHFI in black but did it on the sly. During the current regime, the licentious tobacco company seems to be renewed in vigour to wreak havoc on the health of the nation. Tobacco is killing about one million people per year in India and entrapping thousands of youth and children in its habit.


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