Monday, February 7, 2011
Pune roads are full of gutka sachets
I am in the midst of an eight day Kaya Kalpa Kriya programme organised by the SSY (Swayam Siddha Yoga), founded by Swami Shri Rishi Prabhakar. One of the sessions included sweeping a public road and collecting plastic litter. Last Sunday morning, we got into action on Salisbury Park Road between Golden Bakery and Dias Plot slum. While the roadsides were predictably studded with all kinds of plastic litter, the majority of it comprised plastic gutka sachets. In fact, every second plastic material that I picked up was a gutka sachet. That's when I realised the enormity of the cancerous spread of this addiction (literally and otherwise)!
The gutka pan masala industry accounts to a whopping Rs.100 billion in India so you can imagine the power of this lobby. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), India records about 800,000 tobacco deaths every year or 2,200 deaths a day. Pune based doctor and activist Dr Kalyan Gangwal along with other like-minded activists have been fighting tooth and nail since several years, against availability of gutka pan masala in such small plastic packets that lures young children and th youth to it. A few years back, the Supreme Court had given a formidable judgement directing gutka manufacturers to ban production of such convenient packets and instead sell them only in 200gms tins. This would curtail easy accessibility that is causing harm to lakhs of youngsters. The gutka lobby being strong and influential, the directive was ignored.
Recently, the Supreme Court of India has again come hard on this pan masala industry. A couple of weeks back, it imposed a ban on the use of plastic in the packaging of tobacco products and set March 2011 as the deadline for implementation. The gutka manufacturers pleaded that this would lead to closure of industries. The court then ordered that they should shift to environmentally sachets or then shut down.
March is coming close and one would be pleasantly surprised if the Supreme Court ruling is adhered to by this industry. It is high time though this industry becomes socially and environmentally conscious considering that more than fve million children in India suffer from oral cancers, mostly because of consuming gutka.
In the meanwhile, actors like Sanjay Dutt should take moral and social lessons from Sachin Tendulkar (who did not accept to be the brand ambassoder for a liquour company) and stop advertising to promote gutka-eating.