Guwahati, July 26: The Greater Guwahati Pan Shop Business Association today demanded alternative means of livelihood before the smokeless tobacco bill comes into effect in Assam.
Paan shop owners in the city today united to protest against the Assam government’s move to ban production and sale of chewing tobacco products in the state.
They shouted slogans like “We are in the same boat brother”, “Tarun Gogoi hosiar” and “Himanta Biswa Sarma hosiar” and staged a dharna here protesting against the Assam Health (Prohibition of Manufacturing, Advertising, Trade, Storage, Distribution, Sale and Consumption of Zarda, Ghutka, Pan Masala, etc) Act, 2013.
The association also submitted a memorandum stating their various demands before the governor of Assam today.
At present, close to 8 lakh individuals, 2 lakh traders with an average of four employees each, are dependent on the sale of various smokeless tobacco products for their livelihood in the state. Many of them are small time vendors who live by selling such products on the roadsides. Over 8,000 paan traders operate in Guwahati at present.
“About 8 lakh individuals sustain their families by selling tobacco products. Before banning such products the state government did not even think once about how these people will make ends meet once their trade closes down. The government should provide us with an alternative source of income now. And if the question is of banning addictive substances, why ban only tobacco and not alcohol and cigarette, which are equally injurious to health? We will not silently watch our livelihood being snatched away from us. We will intensify our agitation,” said Ajanta Baishya, organising secretary of the association.
“During the last winter session of the Assembly, we had written letters to all the MLAs about this and asked them to garner public opinion as to whether sale of tobacco products be banned. But we did not receive a single reply from any MLA. If the public refuses to purchase tobacco products, we have nothing to say. But the government simply can’t snatch away our source of income in this way,” said Deepak Ch. Das, member secretary of the association.
“The ministers are our elected members. They won through our votes, but now they are threatening our very livelihood. We will not vote for them in the next election,” said Baishya.
“There are so many small-time vendors who are dependent on this trade. Even differently-abled individuals who are not in a position to do any manual labour, earn their bread and butter by selling paan. These people somehow manage to earn Rs 200-250 a day,” said Balaram Sarkar, general secretary of the association.