Waking up from slumber more than a year after smoking was banned in public, police have decided to crack the whip.
Worried over the poor implementation of the anti-tobacco legislation, including the ban on smoking in public places and the sale and manufacturing of gutkha, the Patna district tobacco control cell on Sunday organised a workshop to develop an action plan for better enforcement of the law in the district. Deputy superintendents of police (DSPs) and sub-inspectors from around 20 police stations from urban areas participated in the seminar.
Speakers stressed that the ban on smoking in public places and on the sale of tobacco products within 100 yards of all educational and health institutions in Patna should be strictly enforced and must be monitored in a monthly crime review. Police agreed.
Ashok Kumar Sinha, the senior DSP, who took part in the event supported by NGO Population Services International (PSI), said henceforth all efforts would be made to make Patna a smoke-free district.
The state health department evoked the ban on smoking at public places in the state on May 20, 2011, two-and-a half years after most of the states in the country implemented the ban. On that day, Bihar announced that violators would be fined if they were caught smoking in public places and offices. But the city police have failed to penalise even one person for smoking in public, or consuming other tobacco products, more than a year after the implementation of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003.
Technical adviser with PSI Dr Rakesh Gupta insisted that one cop at every police station in the urban area of the district should be made in-charge for implementation of anti-tobacco laws.
The health department officers had said after issuing the ban notice that drug and food inspectors, along with policemen, would be authorised to issue challans at the district-level to those who smoke in public places.
According to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003, smoking at all places to which the public has access, including auditoriums, health institutions, government buildings, restaurants, courts, public conveyances, public transport, stadiums, railway stations, bus stops, workplaces, shopping malls, refreshment rooms and airport lounges, attracts a fine of up to Rs 200.
Senior health officials said the department had been seeking co-operation of the home department for sending written instructions to the superintendents of police at all districts across the state to enforce the law.
City superintendent of police Jayant Kant told The Telegraph that the police could act against defaulters only after they received complaints.
I am not very sure about the provisions of the act. But as far as my understanding goes, we can act only when such matters are brought to our notice. Besides, it is also the responsibility of the people to ensure that the norms are followed, he said.
Health department officers claimed that the police had been shirking the responsibility of fining the defaulters on the pretext of being overburdened and short-staffed.
On May 30 this year, Bihar had also imposed a ban on the sale and manufacturing of gutkha under Section 92 of the Central Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.
Speakers at the meet urged the police to intensify raids on shops both small and big who have been illegally selling gutkha despite the ban. The speakers also came up with several plans to ensure defaulters were not let off the hook. (See chart)
Residents expressed concern over the ineffectiveness of the anti-tobacco norms in Patna. I have been reading about the governments initiative to curb tobacco consumption, but there seems to be hardly any sincerity behind the implementation of the legislation. Until laws are enforced, there will not be any point in coming up with one act after another, Chandrika Rai, a resident of the SP Verma Road area, said.