Patna: Barely a day after announcing its plan to ban chewing tobacco, the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar has backtracked on its move, fearing public anger over the move could badly impact political fortunes.
Farmers and rural folk are the main consumers of the tobacco, popular as “khaini”.
“There is no immediate proposal to ban tobacco in Bihar. Nothing happening immediately but we want tobacco farmers to look for alternative production options as tobacco production is not going well,” Chief Minister Nitish Kumar told journalists on Monday.
He said the government had no intention to ban tobacco adding a section of people were trying to mislead the masses.
Earlier in the day, Bihar health minister Mangal Pandey also denied media reports that the state government had written any letter to the Centre seeking a tobacco ban.
“We are against tobacco chewing, found to be the main cause of oral cancer, but haven’t asked the centre for its prohibition,” Pandey told the media.
The backtrack came amid reports the move could cost the NDA dearly in the forthcoming elections, given the main tobacco consumers are rural villagers.
Federal Minister of State for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Giriraj Singh also opposed the proposed move by the government to ban tobacco saying he would protest any such move.
With the next general elections barely a year away, all these factors apparently prompted the state government to retract its announcement.
The state government is already under pressure for enforcing total ban on liquor, which left thousands unemployed.
Earlier it was announced in the media that the government had shot off a letter to the Centre, urging the latter to notify tobacco as a food product. Bihar health secretary Sanjay Kumar had even confirmed that he had written a letter to the centre.
“The state government has already decided to ban tobacco but to enforce this decision, it wants the centre to notify tobacco as food product. Once it is done, tobacco consumption will be banned,” was how Kumar told the media on Saturday adding the state government had already sent a letter to the federal government.
He went on to add “Every fifth person in Bihar has been consuming tobacco and that is very worrying now” and also wondered over the way the number of people chewing raw tobacco has alarmingly increased although tobacco consumption decreased from 53 per cent to 26 per cent in past seven years.