Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Damage A Simple Beedi Can Do

A couple of years back, Parliament passed a bill making it mandatory for beedi wrappers to have a danger mark on atleast 50% of the area. The danger mark included a skull and two cross-bones. The bill was to come into affect during February 2007. Nothing wrong in having a health warning on something that is genuinely a health hazard. But that was until a by-election was to come up in Karimnagar in Andhra Pradesh.

It happens that a significant percentage of voters in the karimnagar constituency are poor beedi workers, more than half of them women. They feel putting a large warning on their beedi packets will leave no place for their brand logo and might also dissuade people from buying their products; a potential threat to their already poor livelihoods.

The three way political battle for the Karimnagar seat between the ruling Congress, the TDP and TRS parties has turned the whole issue on its head and allowed it to acquire several dimensions. All three political parties are scrambling to assure the voters that they are not responsible for the law and are desperately trying to stand up as the saviors of the voters' livelihoods! But then, there is also the issue of very bad health affects from smoking beedis. To me the whole thing is a classic problem in politics, policy and economics.

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