NEW DELHI(PTI): The Congress on Monday accused the government of "propagating and promoting tobacco lobby" in India to common man's peril and wondered whether former Health Minister Harsh Vardhan was removed from the ministry last year due to his anti-tobacco stand.
"Was Harsh Vardhan's anti-tobacco activism responsible for his removal?," party's communication department in-charge Randeep Surjewala asked in a statement.
Recalling that Vardhan was "summarily removed from his post" last November, he alleged, "Grapevine has it that a midnight call from BJP president Amit Shah sealed his fate." Vardhan, a doctor by profession, had taken tough steps against the tobacco industry including increasing taxes. He was shifted from Health Ministry to Science Technology within five months of being given the first portfolio.
Furnishing data from research reports to drive home the point that tobacco causes cancer, Surjewala posed a number of questions to the government asking who is responsible for putting a beedi baron whose annual turnover is over Rs 200 crore on a parliamentary panel that was to decide the fate of millions of Indians.
"Will the person be held accountable? Why didn't the panel speak to any doctors, health experts? Why didn't the Health Ministry not give any formal evidence to the committee? Will the Prime Minister, who tweeted so passionately on World No Tobacco Day give a personal commitment that India won't go back on 85 percent warnings? Won't a revised 60-65 percent notification be a victory for the tobacco lobby? "Modi government is actively pursuing the policy of propagating and promoting tobaco lobby in India to the peril of the common citizen. The Congress party is forced to wonder, if public health was a negotiable instrument where Prime Minister Narender Modi could strike a deal of 20 per cent by indulging in give and take," Surjewala said.
Recalling that the government, by a notification on October 15 last year, made it mandatory for all tobacco packets to carry a pictorial warning covering 85 per cent of the principal display area, he said that it was then called for examination by the Committee on Subordinate Legislation with beedi baron SC Gupta among its members.
"This is highly unusual because the committee ordinarily examines rules after they have been implemented not as a preemptive step," he said, adding that Vardhan was removed as Health Minister within a month after that development.