The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Afraid' Not Smokin’ Shotgun

Calcutta, Nov. 8: Shatrughan Sinha kisise darta nahin.

Shatrughan Sinha is not afraid of anyone: said not for reel but for real.

The Union health minister landed in the city blazing, smoke coming out of both ears. He announced that he would move a Bill in the winter session of Parliament, seeking a ban on tobacco consumption, promotion, projection and modification.

As actor, “Shotgun”, as he was known, would play a variety of tricks with a cigarette stick — throwing it from about waist-high straight to his lips — but today speaking in the tobacco capital, which houses the country’s largest tobacco company ITC Ltd, in his new avatar, the minister made it clear he meant business.

Sinha said he “would not buckle under any pressure from the powerful (tobacco) lobby and go ahead with his plans”.

Bhale mantri nahin rahoon, par aapka sentry banke rahoonga,” he said referring to threats that he perceived to his chair because of this move.

On a two-day visit here, Sinha — a one-time smoker — said he was facing immense pressure from the tobacco lobby. “There are some who threaten me by saying that many ministers lost their jobs because of their efforts to stop tobacco consumption. I have told them that I am not bothered about it. This Biharibabu will continue to indulge in anti-tobacco campaigns, even if I lose my job,” he said.

Tobacco industry sources said Sinha’s proposed Bill seeking a ban on tobacco consumption was “an impossible proposition”.

Constitutional law experts said the government cannot impose the prohibition only by passing a Bill; the Constitution would have to be amended. Advocate Somendra Chandra Bose said the Constitution has a provision (Article 48) to ban consumption of liquor, but none for tobacco. Another expert, Saradindu Biswas, said: “I think it (consumption ban) will attack the fundamental right of the people.”

Sinha had come prepared with some figures to attack the notion that the industry generated too much revenue for the government to go against it. He said the revenue earned from tobacco exports was between Rs 400-500 crore, while the government spent Rs 14,050 crore on treating those suffering from tobacco-related diseases.

Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who was present at a ceremony with the health minister, was overshadowed by the film-size presence of Sinha.

And that is just as well because the chief minister is a smoker, king-size.

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