The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dilly-dally over fume folly

Be it automobile emission or cigarette smoke, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government seems reluctant to fight the fumes.

Writers’ Buildings, after all, has shown no signs of either spreading awareness about the ban on the puff in public places, that came into force on May 1, or make any move to penalise offenders.

Although the necessary notification from the Centre has reached the seat of governance in the city, the power bloc — led by ‘smokers’ chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra — is yet to formulate an action plan to implement the act.

Neither are ‘No Smoking’ boards on display where smoking is prohibited, nor is any action being taken against cigarette-shopowners who are not observing the relevant rules in the new act.

The state government has even failed to properly publicise the areas in which smoking is a strict ‘no-no.’

Health secretary K.K. Bagchi admitted having received the Centre’s notification towards the end of April. But nothing could be done “to expedite matters because of the Lok Sabha polls”, he claimed.

Chief secretary Asok Gupta admitted that a proper enforcement of the act would “require a lot of time”, as it would have to “be done at gunpoint”.

Senior bureaucrats in the state secretariat felt the government has “a very limited role” to play in enforcing the act.

“We do not have the proper infrastructure to prevent public smoking in areas specified by the act. There are so many public places and government offices; is it possible to watch who is smoking where'’’ they demanded.

Home secretary Amit Kiran Deb said the police could act only on the basis of specific complaints of smoking in prohibited places, but could never function as a watchdog.

“If the act has to be enforced with help of the police, then all the time and energy of the force would be spent on identifying and penalising such offenders, instead of keeping a watch on the law and order,” Deb protested.

Health secretary Bagchi, however, felt a small beginning could be made to enforce the act by organising camps and seminars on the evils of tobacco.

This would require involving students, youth organisations and NGOs. “We need the total involvement of all sections of society in a massive public awareness campaign about the health hazards of smoking,” elaborated Bagchi.

That awareness holds the key was evident from the rounds that Metro made of “no-smoking zones”.

Most citizens were still awaiting word from the local authorities about imposition of the ban.

Private companies, banks, insurance and multinational concerns, hotels and bars, however, have not waited for any government initiative to enforce the act and have started taking steps on their own. Many have banned smoking inside office premises and put up notices to this effect.

Bars and restaurants have also started segregating premises by creating ‘smoking’ and ‘no smoking’ zones after the act came into being.

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