Vijayawada: An apex body of tobacco farmers on Saturday urged the central government to safeguard their interests against what it called the ongoing misleading propaganda on tobacco in India.
A federation comprising of nine leading associations of tobacco farmers in India held a rally and a march by a cross section of tobacco farmers and workers.
The Federation of Tobacco Farmers' Associations released a 10 point appeal, demanding the government protect livelihood of 4.57 crore stakeholders till such time sustainable viable alternatives are provided.
"Policy framework should be equitable, rational, reasonable and balanced based on scientific data and evidence," the appeal said.
It also called for protecting Swadeshi products and brands.
"The subject of tobacco needs to be handled with great care and interests of the most vulnerable stakeholders in the delivery chain need to be safeguarded. Unfortunately, recent policy focus has been one sided blindly aping the recommendations of the Western influence and in complete disregard for the local reality in India," said P. Chengal Reddy, chief advisor, Consortium of Indian Farmers Association and chairman, Federation of Farmers Associations, Andhra Pradesh.
According to Muralibabu of Kondepi Tobacco Growers Association, tobacco is grown in 13 states in India and the industry provides direct employment to 4.57 crore people out of which 57 percent are farmers, 19 percent tobacco workers, 9 percent tribals and 16 percent petty retailers.
"We are disturbed that influencers want the industry to be removed overnight, without a practical provision for alternatives. So far the farming community has not been able to find any alternative, as tobacco is grown in semi-arid and non-irrigated lands. We urge the government to provide practical alternatives before rushing into any major policy changes."
Gadde Seshagiri Rao, member, Tobacco Board said extreme regulations imposed in the recent past have only helped the business of smugglers.
"Ever since pictorial warnings were introduced in 2009, the illicit tobacco trade has grown by 31 percent. Smuggled cigarettes do not carry warnings, and understandably perceived safer by consumers; they also do not use Indian tobacco, thereby, reducing the demand for farmers. This year, prices of tobacco are already down by 7 percent, and any further regulation will put extreme stress on the farming community," he said.