The Indian government said Friday it would not withdraw a notification making it mandatory for bidi packets to carry a skull and crossbones picture as a warning but said its enforcement could be postponed till May.
Lok Sabha MPs from various parties protested the move saying it would affect the livelihood of millions of bidi workers.
However, Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said the government would not withdraw the notification because written warnings had not succeeded in making people aware of the dangers of tobacco.
"If the members want it, we can postpone it till April end," Ramadoss said.
Moving a calling attention motion on the issue of bidi workers, particularly in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) MP K. Yerran Naidu said the government's move would make the workers unemployed.
"Do you have any alternative employments for those workers before you close it down?" Naidu asked. He said the government should withdraw the notification, which would be enforced from February 2007.
Left and Congress MPs supported him and suggested that there could be a written statutory warning instead of the pictorial skull and crossbones.
But Ramadoss ruled it out. "All these years we have had a statutory warning on the cigarette packets. The effect has been miniscule. In fact, smoking has been increased especially among youngsters.
"Most bidi consumers are illiterate and poor. A written warning will not serve the purpose."
The minister said around 250 million people in the country used tobacco. "Of this, 42-45 percent are bidi smokers and 15 percent use cigarettes. The rest have tobacco eating habits.
"Around 50 percent of cancer deaths are also attributed to tobacco consumption," Ramodass said.
Indo-Asian News Service