The Hari Putar Dialogues - 23
(The Asian Age; Calcutta; Sept. 16: From October 2, even Buddha can't smoke. Union health minister Anbumani Ramadoss is determined to penalize West Bengal's chain-smoking CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee if found lighting up at his Writers' Building office. A nationwide ban on smoking comes into effect on Gandhi Jayanti. Like all offenders, Mr Bhattacharjee will have to pay a Rs 200 fine.)
Putar:: According to a report by the Asian Age today, the Union Health Minister is determined to penalize the Chief Minister of West Bengal if he smokes in his office.
Hari: Buddhadeb, the Chief Minister said earlier he would continue to smoke in his office.
Putar:: They say that the World Health Organization has offered special smoking cessation modules to persuade the CM to quit.
Hari: But Buddha remains provocative by insisting that he will continue to smoke.
Putar:: Well, then the Health Minister says that he will have to pay the Rs 200 fine.
Hari: How is the Health Minister going to enforce the action against smoking?
Putar:: They can create a new post in the Government administration. That of Smoking Inspectors, who go and check whether anyone is smoking.
Hari: Possibly, but although right now the Chief Minister has been seen smoking in public places, after 2 October, he can simply close the door to his office, open the window and start smoking, and instruct his staff not to allow anyone inside.
Putar:: That's true.
Hari: Ramodoss will have to get the Criminal Procedure Code amended.
Putar:: How do you mean?
Hari: Well, you know the police can be issued a search warrant by a Magistrate under certain circumstances, just like the Income Tax inspectors can carry out a raid. So also the Smoking Inspectors will need these kinds of powers.
Putar:: Seems unlikely though that such a law can be passed.
Hari: There is one more solution. They can install smoke alarms in the offices, just like they do in the toilets of aircrafts.
Putar:: That's a lot of investment. Installing smoke detector alarms in all the government offices will cost a lot of money.
Hari: I'm sure Ramadoss is thinking of how to trap the Chief Minister. It will be interesting if Buddhadeb does get caught and fined.
Putar:: Well, he has been warned. Do you remember how a while ago there was this controversy about Amitabh Bacchan smoking a cigar in a film called 'Family'.
Hari: I remember that. The Health Minister had got very upset. His view is that youngsters especially get influenced if they see some popular film actor smoking on the big screen.
Putar:: But Amitabh was playing the role of a mafia boss in that film and mafia bosses are supposed to doing things like smoking cigars. It's part of their character in the film. In that case tomorrow the Health Minister can be annoyed that Amitabh was drinking whisky in a film arguing that youngsters might be influenced.
Hari: He is going too far here. Where will it end? You cannot stop showing robberies and murders taking place on the big screen as well, even though young people may be influenced. The Minister ought not to insist, as he has been doing that film and TV stars must be shown smoking outside buildings in movies and serials.
Putar:: The cigarette companies must be watching this war of words between two senior Indian politicians with interest. I don't suppose that they are over fond of the Union Health Minister.
Hari: I guess not. On the other hand the report in the newspaper states that West Bengal has reportedly lost millions in anti-tobacco funding because its CM has been photographed smoking in public places.
Putar:: Tell me something Papaji?
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar:: Dr Ramadoss, in a letter to Mr Bhattacharjee, has urged him to show the same leadership in implementing the anti-smoking ban as he is showing in promoting industrial growth.
Hari: That is correct, Putar:
Putar:: So he has given the CM credit for promoting industrial growth. And industries also create smoke and pollution, don't they?
Hari: Yes, of course.
Putar:: And the smoke from industries also affects the health of people.
Hari: No doubt about that, Putar: Don't you remember how some years ago the Supreme Court ordered hundreds of smoke throwing industries in Delhi to close down?
Putar:. That's true. So, in that case, shouldn't the Health Minister be equally focused on getting industry 'not to smoke so much'?
Hari: That is very important, it's true.
Putar:: But he would need the help of State Governments to make this happen.
Hari: Of course he would.
Putar:: So can't the Union Health Minister and the Chief Minister arrive at a compromise?
Hari: What kind of compromise?
Putar:: Don't you think that Ramadoss should make an offer to Buddhadeb that if he can stop industry all over West Bengal from smoking so much then as a special favor he can be allowed to smoke in his office?
Hari: I don't know, Putar.