Retailers up their arms against mandatory tobacco licence

Ashis Sinha I Bokaro: Bokaro Retailers Association, representing over 15,000 traders and small retailers, including betel shop owners (panwallas) selling tobacco products in Bokaro, raised voice against the state government’s order that mandates separate licenses for selling tobacco products.

Following the COVID guidelines, the members of the association gathered near Chas Municipal Corporation (CMC) office for a protest on Thursday.

Department of Urban Development, Government of Jharkhand, has been issued an order on 1 Dec 2021 which mandates separate licenses for selling tobacco products, said Kalicharan Mukherjee Secretary Bokaro Retailers Association.

The order also prohibits the sale of any other item of daily needs like biscuits, soft drinks, mineral water and other foodstuff from their shop, he said.

“If the licensing requirement for selling tobacco products is made mandatory in the city, the move will drive the families of small and micro-retailers to starvation as it will severely impact their livelihoods,” he said.

“In Bokaro, like elsewhere in the country, the tobacco retailing business has traditionally been in the hands of thousands of small shopkeepers who represent the unorganised sector and operate from small shops. These retailers have suffered immensely due to lockdown and are struggling to survive,” added Mukherjee.

This will cause massive harassment to poor and mostly uneducated micro-retailers at the hands of enforcement officials and will bring back the License Raj; leading to a sharp increase in their cost of business. Presently, retailers are already in a desperate situation due to a massive loss in business due to the coronavirus pandemic.

These retailers sustain their livelihood by selling goods of daily needs like biscuits, soft drinks, mineral water, cigarettes, bidi, pan and other products. Their pre-lockdown earnings were about Rs 4,000-6000 per month, which is barely adequate to feed two square meals a day to their family members, said Nakur Gorai, President of the Association.

“Their earnings have already been impacted due to pandemic and the proposed law will further erode 60-70 percent of their earnings and it will be a big blow to the petty retailers,” he added.

The association appealed to the Mayor and Municipal Commissioner of CMC to withdraw this order mandating licensing for the sale of tobacco products as it will impact over 18,000 micro-retailers that represent the livelihood of over 80,000 people, including their families in the city.

India already has the strictest laws in the world, which includes 85% graphic health warnings on packets, no sale to minors, no sale within 100 yards around educational institutions.

Bokaro Retailers Association strongly believes these laws under the current COTPA 2003 regulation for tobacco control/trade are sufficient. Therefore, there is no need to introduce any new licensing rule on the business of tobacco products.

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