New Delhi: Federation of Retailer Association of India (FRAI), a representative body of about 4 crore micro, small and medium retailers from across the country on Thursday appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene and order a recall of the proposed 2020 amendments in the COTPA law which threaten to further attack the livelihoods of petty retailers selling tobacco and related products across India.
FRAI represents the interests of the poorest of the poor in the country and raises issues which impact their employment opportunities and also render help to such people who are unable to express their views.
FRAI members sustain their livelihood by selling goods of daily needs which are demanded by general public like biscuits, soft drinks, mineral water, cigarettes, bidi, pan etc. in the neighbourhood. The profit of these micro retailers in selling these essential products works out to about Rs 15,000 per month which is barely adequate to feed two square meals a day to their family members.
The Coronavirus triggered lockdowns and economic destruction has further damaged the economic condition of small retailers and any further adverse policy which destabilizes their business activity will be devastating.
FRAI and its member organisations from all over the country are "disturbed by the undemocratic amendment" of CoTPA bill 2020 proposed by the Ministry of Health, which disallows retail sale of loose sticks of cigarettes, prohibits sale of tobacco products persons below 21 years, put controls on in-shop advertising and promotion amongst others, as they seemed to be aimed at destroying the business for the smaller retailers without impacting large retailers.
Speaking on the issue, Ram Asre Mishra, President, Federation of Retailers Association of India, said: "We humbly appeal for the Hon'ble Prime Minister's empathy and request him to instruct the designated ministry to immediately roll back the proposed COTPA amendments as they are extremely harsh. By making age old trade practices like selling loose cigarettes a cognizable offence and an imprisonment of 7 years for small violations makes small traders look like heinous criminals. Compared to a 2-year imprisonment for extortion or for dangerous driving that can cause death, this is the extreme of the extremes. This puts paan, bidi and cigarette sellers in the same crime list category as a person voluntarily throwing acid on someone or causing death by negligence etc. How can anybody be so insensitive while drafting the amendment towards poor, marginalized people who are struggling to earn their daily living?"
"Already India has the toughest tobacco control laws in the world which has led to degrowth in legal tobacco consumption. Current laws have only helped illicit and smuggled cigarettes to grow benefiting anti-social elements. Then why these extra harsh tobacco control measures have become more important than other health issues like fighting deadly diseases such as coronavirus, diabetes, obesity, mental health, and diseases caused by rising air pollution etc. Unlike Coronavirus, policy changes like these are totally in the hands of our policy makers and should be given a serious human consideration. Today, we feel victimised and targeted as a community and plead for the mercy of PM Modi," he added.
Gulab Chand Khoda, Joint Secretary, FRAI, said: "Our members provide various products to consumers based on the necessities. The tobacco products such as cigarettes and bidis are also included in the products offered by our members. As per law, we do not sell do not sell tobacco products to minors. In a congested and heavily populated cities, such a restriction is impractical. Petty retailers will have to vacate their place without any means to support their livelihoods."
The suggested amendment prohibits sale of tobacco products persons below 21 years (earlier this was 18 years).
In India, an 18-year-old person can cast his/her vote to elect government of choice, get a driving license. But it is draconian, that same person cannot exercise their choice when it to comes to buying a tobacco product, which is sold legally. The existing law already prohibits sale of cigarettes to minors, so there is no cause for concern that persons who do not understand implications are buying tobacco products, the FRAI said.
FRAI believes that few NGOs who work for foreign companies are constantly pressurizing the government to enforce unfair and unimplementable laws against small shopkeepers. These policies are helping big foreign and e-commerce companies at the cost of business of petty retailers.
FRAI and its members requested the Government to be practical and equitable, especially for the lowest socio-economic strata of society who are already struggling to make two ends meet and "not impose such harsh, arbitrary and unreasonable restrictions on our right to trade and livelihood".