For govt, areca a tough nut to crack

For govt, areca a tough nut to crack

The ruling Congress on Tuesday strongly defended its decision to ban the manufacture and sale of gutka and paan masala, despite demands from legislators hailing from areca-growing regions demanding that the ban be withdrawn.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, while replying to a debate on the issue in the Assembly, said the arecanut farmers need not panic following the ban. The State government is committed to protecting their interest. The government is watching the arecanut prices in the market. If the prices crash, an appropriate decision will be taken, he promised.

Health Minister U T Khader defended the ban saying that the government had only followed the Supreme Court direction. “We had no option but to impose the ban,” Khader said. “Even former advocate general of Karnataka S Vijay Shankar had, in January this year, advised the then government to immediately impose the ban.”

The BJP members, however, staged a walkout in protest of the government's stance.

‘Protect farmers’

Earlier, legislators cutting across party lines, accused the government of taking a hasty decision in imposing the ban, without taking arecanut growers into confidence. They demanded that adequate steps should be taken to protect the farmers.

BJP leader Jagadish Shettar said the government issued the order on May 30, though the Assembly had been summoned from May 29. “Taking a policy decision when the legislature is in session is against the convention and an insult to the House,” he said.

The former chief minister said that though there was no opposition to the ban as such, the government must have taken sufficient measures to protect areca growers. The growers should have been taken into confidence, instead of taking a unilateral decision to implement the Supreme Court direction to impose the ban.

BJP legislators Vishveshwara Hegde Kageri, who hails from the areca-growing area of Sirsi, said the government must have realised that the growers were already suffering, because of the yellow leaf disease affecting the crop. At this juncture, the ban has come as an added blow.

His party colleague D N Jeevaraj, the MLA from Sringeri, argued that only the harmful chemicals used in gutka should have been banned.

“If the government has so  much concern for the health of citizens, it should impose a ban on tobacco too. Has the government colluded with the ITC?,” he asked.

Karnataka Janata Party leader B S Yeddyurappa, who hails from the areca-growing district of Shimoga, said the government must have come out with a minimum support price scheme before announcing the ban. This would have helped in arresting the fall in prices.
In the Upper House, a passionate case was made by Leader of the Opposition and former chief minister D V Sadananda Gowda to reconsider the ban.

“As soon as the gutka ban was announced, the rate for areca plummeted by Rs 2,000 per tonne. The hasty decision by the State government will hit 1.5 crore people who survive on growing areca and allied industries, ” said Gowda.

The gutka debate

Government argument:
*  Ban imposed following SC direction
*  Gutka causes cancer. Youth are harming their health by consuming it
*  Gutka manufacturers do not use arecanut grown in Karnataka
*  Arecanut prices have not crashed after ban

Opposition counters:
* Why not ban cigarette and liquor in the interest of public health? Why only gutka?
* Farmers will be hit hard as arecanut is a commercial crop in Karnataka
* Farmers not consulted before imposing the ban
* Regulate the nicotine content in gutka, instead of ban

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